Monday, February 23, 2015

Walmart weighs in, too late, against gay discrimination legislation

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 8:10 PM

Walmart, the giant retailer based in Bentonville, said today it opposed Senate Bill 202, passed to protect legal discrimination against gay people.

The law became official today because Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to veto it. But it won't take effect until 90 days after the legislative session because it lacks an emergent clause.

Walmart has stood mute on this issue, despite repeated calls from critics of the bill for corporations with anti-discrimination policies, such as Walmart, to speak up.

Today, AP issued a report that said:

A spokesman for the world's largest retailer on Monday said the proposal that became law earlier in the day runs counter to its beliefs and "sends the wrong message about Arkansas." Wal-Mart is based in Bentonville in northwest Arkansas.

A day late and many billions of dollars short. A Walmart position before now might have meant something.

Walmart critics took note of Walmart's cowardice days ago and listed reasons it should be in the fray. These included past praise from LGBT advocates for the company's own improvement on that score; its financial support for Asa Hutchinson; the $450,000 it has poured into Republican state legislative races since 2000; Walton-owned Arvest Bank's support of discrimination bill sponsor Bart Hester, its leadership in the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, another shamefully silent member of the business community.

A cynic might speculate there's worse at work here than cowardice. Perhaps the Waltons have bigger fish to fry in this session — charterizing the state's public schools, for example, and don't want to agonize the gay haters who can also be expected to carry that ball for them.

A more hopeful bit of speculation — wildly speculative though it is — is that Walmart will now become forceful in opposite to pending HB 1228, a much broader piece of gay discrimination legislation. SB 202 merely prevents local governments from protecting the civil rights of gay people. HB 1228 would give a pass to anyone who wants to discriminate against gay people in any fashion — job, housing, services. They need only say that their conscience prevents them from treating gay people equally.

I have asked Gov. Asa Hutchinson whether he'll also allow the much broader HB 1228 to become law and thus proclaim the official view of the entire state of Arkansas supports discrimination against gay people. Maybe he and Walmart will grow a pair.


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