Businesses play big role in civil rights

The seventh annual Miami Beach Gay Pride festival closed this Sunday with a bustling parade down Ocean Drive. The festival, put on with the support of Miami-Dade County and various local affiliates, is a celebration and showcase of Miami’s LGBT community. The University of Miami made an appearance complete with the Hurricanettes dance team and Sebastian the Ibis.

While the city of Miami, with its rich history of LGBT acceptance, spent a week proudly celebrating its identity, other areas around the country are reevaluating legal protections of civil rights, from religious freedom to non-discrimination against LGBT individuals.

The recent controversy over religious freedom laws shows once again that business plays a heavy hand in politics and can influence policy for the better.

Indiana and Arkansas both recently backpedaled on religious objections laws passed in their state legislatures due to external corporate pressure, according to an April 7 analysis published by Reuters. The proposed bills not only affirmed the religious rights of individuals but also those of private businesses. This immediately raised red flags for civil rights activists and members of the LGBT community who feared the law’s potential to justify discrimination.

Though it is important to respect individual liberties – religious freedoms included – there’s a delicate line between asserting one’s freedom and infringing on the freedom of others.

Fortunately, big businesses like Apple and Angie’s List spoke up against the controversial laws, and their firm opposition has effectively scared policymakers into making concessions to protect non-discrimination and LGBT rights. Similar religious freedom bills in Georgia and Oklahoma have since lost momentum in legislature.

The outcry against these bills indicates a shift in the role of large corporations in the modern era. While the actions of big businesses have largely been the target of social activists in the past, Indiana and Arkansas’ legislative responses to criticism by these powerful organizations show that big businesses can also be a valuable aide to activism. Money talks, and lawmakers seem to hear corporate voices loud and clear.

In response to a bill meant to protect the beliefs of businesses, it is admirable that these corporations have taken a stand for their belief in civil rights. Hopefully, these cases will set the tone for even more participation from conscientious corporations in the future.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.