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The secret reason some Alabama Republicans are relieved SCOTUS legalized gay marriage

Apple CEO Tim Cook
Apple CEO Tim Cook

This past Wednesday morning, workers at the Alabama Capitol took down the poles where for years various Confederate flags had flown. That afternoon, Gov. Robert Bentley announced that Google, the world’s second most valuable company, would invest $600 million to bring a new data processing center to a tiny town in Alabama’s northeast corner.

The removal of the flags and the major jobs announcement were not directly related, but the two events taking place in such close succession reminded many elected Republicans that future economic development competitions will only increase the pressure to bend Alabama’s cultural identity to the wishes of socially conscious corporations.

Gov. Bentley made it clear in an interview with the New York Times over the weekend that he had already considered this tension.

“A flag is not worth a job,” he said flatly. “We have so many premier automobile and aerospace industries in the state, and I want this progress to continue. I don’t want anything to be a distraction to my ability to recruit jobs.”

The Confederate flag debate is far from an isolated incident in this regard.

Alabama’s business lobby made the same case in 2011 against HB56, the state’s anti-illegal immigration bill, which was ultimately passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Their argument gained steam when a German Mercedes executive was arrested for not carrying proper documentation and a Japanese Honda executive was ticketed under the law. But the blowback quieted when France-based Airbus announced it would build its first North American assembly plant in south Alabama. Airbus, for one, appeared much more attracted to the state’s right-to-work laws, low energy rates and overall pro-business atmosphere than it was repelled by its affinity for the rule of law on immigration.

But other out-of-state companies and executives have not held back in their criticism of Alabama, most recently on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is openly gay, excoriated his home state for being “too slow on LGBT equality.”

“We were too slow on equality for African-Americans. We were too slow on interracial marriage. And we are still too slow on equality for the LGBT community,” Cook said in a surprisingly critical speech after being inducted into the prestigious Alabama Hall of Honor.

And Apple is not alone in using its corporate muscle to advance a social agenda.

“Small businesses that have exploded into major corporations, most notably Walmart, are now throwing their corporate weight around, pressuring the South… to change on issues like gay rights,” the New York Times noted over the weekend.

The question from here on out will be, what qualifies as — in Gov. Bentley’s words — a “distraction” to economic development, and what is an important, non-negotiable part of Alabama’s cultural identity.

That decision will be made on a case-by-case basis, but you can be confident that some of Alabama’s elected Republicans are relieved the Supreme Court made the decision for them this time. They won’t get off the hook so easily in the years to come.

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