New evidence is emerging that appears to indicate that Microsoft is not being completely forthcoming about the timing of its decision to withdraw support for the Washington State anti-gay-discrimination bill.

Jeff Koertzen, an operations program manager and the secretary-treasurer of GLEAM, the gay and lesbian group at Microsoft that met on April 4 with Bradford L. Smith, the Microsoft senior vice-president and general counsel at the center of a furor over the company's decision, spoke to The Stranger after giving notice on Monday, May 2. The six-year Microsoft employee said he could no longer work at the company, given his belief that Smith and other company spokespeople are not being honest about what happened.

"I believe [Smith] is lying based on statements he made to us," Koertzen said. "My principles do not allow me to work for a company that does that."

Koertzen is the second employee that attended the meeting with Smith, where the executive discussed the company's decision to take a neutral stance on the bill, to speak out, and the first to do so on the record. He said that Smith's comments at the meeting made it evident to him that the company shifted its position on the bill after meeting with Ken Hutcherson, the lead pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond and a national figure in the Evangelical Christian battle against gay rights.

Koertzen, who took notes at the GLEAM meeting, said that Smith conceded to the group that they had a point in complaining that he had made his decision to take a neutral stance on the legislation after only speaking with "one side" on the issue. "The only logical conclusion you can get from that is that a decision was made after speaking with Hutch," Koertzen said. He added that he believes that company employees had been working unofficially, but with the full knowledge of Smith, to support the bill. That changed after Smith met with Hutcherson: "What ended up happening is that Hutch goes in and complains, and at that point there was no 'official' stance. Two weeks later, the official policy became that we are neutral."

Koertzen added that he had spoken to a company lobbyist sometime prior to the GLEAM meeting. "My perception is that she honestly believed that the company was going to be issuing the letter [of support]," he said.

Koertzen's belief that Microsoft pulled back from the legislation after receiving complaints from Hutcherson is supported by other previously unreported information. According to an account confirmed by several sources involved in preparing Washington State's gay marriage lawsuit, Smith told another company employee last December that the company might back the bill in the upcoming session, a statement that was then passed on to the same-sex marriage advocates.

Smith made the comment as a corollary--or perhaps a compromise--to his decision to deny a request that the company sign onto an amicus, or friend-of-the-court, brief being shopped around last fall by gay marriage proponents to a number of major local corporations, including Microsoft, the sources confirmed.

The information about Microsoft's abortive role in the same-sex marriage case was provided by a source prominent in the gay community. It was independently confirmed by three other same-sex marriage proponents with knowledge of the preparations for the case in the months before the gay marriage supreme court hearing.

Beginning in September, same-sex marriage advocates approached Microsoft and other local corporations to see if they would be willing to sign a brief arguing that the legalization of same-sex marriage would foster a tolerant image for Washington State that would in turn improve the business community's ability to recruit top-level national talent to local companies, the sources confirmed.

Microsoft put the request through extensive internal deliberation. Of 11 company departments that weighed in on the matter, 10 were initially receptive, with only the company's federal-government-affairs shop in D.C. objecting (according to recent news reports, former Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed is a paid Microsoft lobbyist on international trade and competition issues). That objection was resolved, the sources confirmed, but in mid-December Smith vetoed the internal recommendations and decided not to sign off on the brief.

The brief, which was eventually filed under the names of two gay-oriented business groups, is a supporting document in the gay-marriage appeal that went before the state supreme court on March 8. A ruling by the court is likely later this year; two lower state courts last year ruled that the state's Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

The sources stressed that Microsoft was not alone in deciding not to get involved in the same-sex marriage case. While several other major companies expressed interest, none eventually signed the brief. But word was passed on to the sources by a company employee who was acting as a liaison between Smith and the same-sex marriage proponents that Microsoft didn't seem to be backing off the anti-discrimination bill in this year's legislative session.

In addition, Dan Kully of Equal Rights Washington (ERW), a gay rights group that lobbied extensively on the bill, said that on February 1 two company employees who testified in a legislative hearing in favor of the bill clearly believed they were doing so with the company's backing. Kully said they told an ERW representative that day that the company would be issuing a letter in support of the bill, but that the letter never arrived.

The new claims about Smith's comments appear to undercut the company's contention that it made its decision to adopt a neutral stance on the legislation, which would have barred discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, and other matters, in December. Smith and other company representatives have repeatedly stated that the decision was made as part of a general review of policy matters related to the company's involvement in "social issues," and not as a result of pressure from Hutcherson, who threatened to organize a national Christian boycott of Microsoft if the company did not switch its stance.

Microsoft spokeswoman Tami Begasse acknowledged that Microsoft decided not to join as an amicus in the gay marriage case, adding, "we do not comment on internal deliberations and certainly not on legal issues." She did dispute that Smith made any commitment to to the bill in December. "Clearly, something is being lost in translation. We disagree with this account," she said, reiterating the company's previous public statements that the company set its legislative priorities in December, and that House Bill 1515 was not on the list. "Admittedly we've done a poor job of communicating on this," she said. "Multiple discussions were taking place at some times which may have added to the confusion," she said. "Microsoft's decision on this matter was ours alone and not influenced by any external factors."

However, the new information dovetails with that provided by other company critics who have claimed in recent weeks that Microsoft is not telling the truth about the timing of its decision to withdraw support for the bill. Hutcherson has accused the company of lying, saying that in a February 23 meeting Smith told him the company rejected a request to support gay marriage, but supported the legislation. Rep. Ed Murray, a Democrat representing Capitol Hill, has also said that a March 29 conversation with Smith left him with the impression that the company shifted its stance in March under pressure from Hutcherson. In addition, another gay Microsoft employee who attended the April 4 GLEAM meeting previously told The Stranger, under cloak of anonymity, that Smith had strongly implied at the meeting that the company's position shifted only after Smith met with Hutcherson.

sandeep@thestranger.com

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