Immoral? Illegal? Who can say? Well, I will!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/04/24 18:00 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2005/04/24/411512.aspx


There have been several interesting emails that I have gotten the last few days, relating to the Microsoft stance on the anti-discrimination bill.

Many people have seen the letter Steve Ballmer sent out (either because they are employees, or beacuse they read Scoble's posting of it, or through their own nefarious sources), and the various comments that people have put into their blogs about the issue. I don't really a "me too" post to add, but I will give an extra thought or two about it that perhaps will cause someone to see it all in a different light, or maybe a slightly different shade of the same light....

I read Vic Gundotra's thoughts about it, and found myself unconvinced about the attempt to move the issue from being a human rights issue to a moral issue.

I myself am not gay. That is a personal choice of mine. I have never known anyone to not respect that. For others it may be a moral choice, but I simply do not see it that way myself. I will respect the right of someone to believe it is immoral if that is their belief, it is certainly no worse and no better of a reason to make such a choice than just not being interested in giving it a try or being afraid to do so or whatever. It is a choice. And I respect the right of anyone to make that choice.

I am vigously opposed to the notion that such a choice should ever either help or harm my career in any way whatsoever. And certainly if I were gay I would feel the same way, perhaps even more vigourously since someone would essentially be discrminating against me. Either way, the notion that the way I live my life when I am doing nothing illegal should ever impact my career due to discrimination sickens me. If I am the CEO of a company with a strong policy against such discrimination, then how can I say that I personally feel that way and my company policies are shaped that way, but such a policy as law would not be appropriate for me to support?

I think about my own situation, as a different kind of protected class, being handicapped.

I love that I work for a company that either meets or exceeds all of the legal requiremnts related to my handicap, and I also love the support I am being given by a management team that wants me to be able to be a happy and productive member of the team. But I live in the real world where not all companies or management teams would give that level of support. And knowing that they are required to make at least some effort makes me feel safer as a person who is handicapped.

If Microsoft were to do the same thing for a bill related to my situation, I would probably be shouting my displeasure from the rooftops.

The moral issue is irrelvant to the issue at hand, because the bill does not legislate morality, It basically requires that you cannot discriminate against someone, even if those are your moral beliefs. If you do it at Microsoft, then you may well be fired. All people who are put in such a situation deserve such protections, even if they do not work for Microsoft.

Taking a step back for a moment, I will admit that I actually do have certain prejudices.

In the other direction.

I tend to assume that someone of a different race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation may actually have a better chance at being good at their job than someone who is not. This ias because of the wry fact that they are fighting a harder daily battle and it is much easier for them to either give up or to be drummed out by someone with preudices against them. The fact that they are still there has some small positive effect (that they havemanaged to avoid being forced out by those who tend to discrimate).

This prejudice of mine is deep seated and has probably been around since a good friend fought and won the battle be a neurosurgeon against an department chief who was inclined to feel that she had no place there, on the basis of her sex. I knew she was an excellent neurosurgeon, and when she asked if I would be comfortable if she scrubbed in when I was having surgery myself I told her I would be honored. And I was. The fact is that had she not been, that department head would have had her drummed out of the program. And I cannot say that all neurosurgeons are held to such high standards. Unfortunately.

Here in software, its not quite the same life or death kind of situation, obviously. And I have worked to make sure I would never allow my "prejudice" in favor of a candidate who has overcome a system that generally seems disinclined to help deserving people to get a fair shake to change a decision or cause me to prefer one candidate for a job or a project over another. Because even a "good" prejudice is wrong and it is crucial that I make decisions based on the facts and not any of my preconceived notions. In the end I must have real reasons to support my choices, not just to defend myself from getting in trouble but so I can live with myself.

I think the decision to not support the bill as a company that clearly does support the tenets that cause the bill to exist is wrong. It is a decision that shows that as a company we may have certain convictions, but that we lack the courage of some of those convictions.


# CyrusN on 24 Apr 2005 5:14 PM:

Michael: "I myself am not gay. That is a personal choice of mine."

You chose to not be gay? That's quite interesting and i'd like to hear a bit more about this. When were you offered the choice and what made you end up going the way you did?

I don't recall ever going through the same thing myself frankly. :)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 24 Apr 2005 9:18 PM:

Well, choice in a different sense than that -- choice to express my preferences in that way. One can assume that everyone who is not openly gay is either not gay or they are in the closet -- both of which I suppose are choices of a sort, kind of.

But I was not meaning to state that it is always an actual choice versus a real biological and psychological makeup type of thing that if one tries to counter one is ctually fighting one's own nature. I have several gay and lesbian friends who have expressed it to me in exactly that way, and I have never even considered doubting their words. I was just focusing on the right to choose and the fact that anyone who punishes that decision is in the wrong, no matter whether their reasone are moral, homophobic, or other.

# Yaytay on 25 Apr 2005 2:35 AM:

The difference between declaring something immoral and simply not being interested in it is that one is a value judgement on others.
And a pretty strong one at that.
I don't think it is sensible to disregard the 'moral' basis for fighting this bill.

But lets face it, it's not really about morality, it's about power - as are most claims of morality and all organised religions.

What's the difference between a moral guardian and a bigot?

# Frans Bouma on 25 Apr 2005 2:58 AM:

"I myself am not gay. That is a personal choice of mine. "
You don't choose to be gay or not: you are gay or you aren't. It's not a choice nor is it a decease or a hype.

I'm not gay, but I'm still glad in my country gays can marry and be happy like any other person. I really can stand it less and less that religious rightwing nuttcases get more and more grip on one of the most important societies in the world. :/

# Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Apr 2005 4:34 AM:

Yaytay -- since Microsoft has a policy that says if I do it, I am fired, there is no conceivable justifiation for acting like there is a moral basis for being opposed to the bill. The message that Microsoft sends here to the violator -- "what you did is not illegal in the eyes of the company but you are fired anyway because it violates policy. Oh, and by the way, Bill and Steve personally believe that it ought be illegal. Now get out." The message is inconsistent. Especially since they do not feel that way as a company about any other anti-discrimination law. The messags there is "if you are gay you are a second-class citizen in the eyes of the law. Though Bill and Steve do not feel that way personally and we will protect you from harm as long as we are here?" That is both inconistent and more than a bit obnoxious.

So I do disregard the moral argument as a basis for Microsoft not supporting the bill. It is no more defensible than it being legal to treat women as second class citizens or any other form of discrimination.

Frans -- see my earlier response to Cyrus. And by the way I agree with you. The fact that people who are gay cannot marry in most parts of the USA is a ridiculous statement at the federal and state level, wherever it is the law.

# Yaytay on 25 Apr 2005 4:55 AM:

Please don't for one second believe that I disagree with your viewpoint, but I think that one has to do more to fight those who make claims about morality.

Most claims of immorality are immoral :-)

# Michael S. Kaplan on 25 Apr 2005 5:34 AM:

Well, I definitly agree with *that*.

What is it with some people who can never be happy unless they are making someone else feel less happy?

# Jo-Pete Nelson on 25 Apr 2005 1:53 PM:

I'm not from Washington, so I hadn't actually heard about this law up for debate until I read it on your site. Connecticut just recently passed a law protecting gay rights (I don't remember if it was concerning marriage or what).

I'll have to brace myself for potential flaming from all sides as I stick my conservative nose in the door and say I morally disagree with homosexuality. Of course, I also morally disagree with gambling, alcohol, and strip clubs, all of which have various laws protecting them in different states. I have actually had (very close) friends who declared themselves homosexual. I still respected them, but was somewhat disappointed by their choice (and corresponding actions).

That said, I don't specifically disagree with the law, since people should not be discriminated against as a rule. *But*, I do think that Steve's position may be the best road in this case. I'm sure that as a CEO, he has to deal with plenty of stock holders that are viciously opposed to laws that they see as "attacking the moral framework of society." There is a difference between making decisions on a corporate level and trying to throw corporate weight to impliment highly controversial laws.

# Michael S. Kaplan on 27 Apr 2005 12:49 AM:

FWIW, I have had someone point out after reading both my original words and my clarification is that when I referred to CHOICE that I was catually referring to the choice being what to be in PUBLIC, not what to be in terms of actual sexual preferece.

I resisted the idea that this is what I meant at first, mainly because I had not been thinking about it that way. But I have come to understand that Dan is right, I really was thinking about the public persona of a person, not what they are inside. This is obviously an important act, thus the talk around someone "coming out" if they make their status known.

I apologize to anyone and everyone who was offended by my original word choice. I honestly wa not smart enough to understand how to express what I was thinking here. I am tempted to edit the post but I will resist the temptation -- I said I would not try to act like I never make mistakes here, and I should not start now just because I am embarrassed.

And for those of you who recognized that this is what I meant before now, you can officially consider yourself smarter than me. Welcome to that club, I hear they have shirts!

# Ben on 27 Apr 2005 6:27 AM:

We also have mugs, pens, and bumper stickers.

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