updated 4/26/2005 6:48:46 PM ET 2005-04-26T22:48:46

Microsoft Corp. may rethink its decision to withdraw support for state legislation that would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians, Chairman Bill Gates says.

In an interview with The Seattle Times, Gates said he was surprised by the fierce criticism that followed the company’s decision to no longer back a state gay rights bill it had supported in previous years. (MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

The legislation failed by one vote in the state Senate on Thursday, spurring outrage among advocates who accused Microsoft of caving to political pressure from an evangelical pastor.

“Next time this one comes around, we’ll see,” Gates said in the story published Tuesday. “We certainly have a lot of employees who sent us mail. Next time it comes around that’ll be a major factor for us to take into consideration.”

Microsoft, one of the first companies to offer domestic partner benefits to gay employees, has denied that the pastor or anyone else outside the company influenced its decision. Gates said executives hadn’t expected a backlash.

“Well, we didn’t expect that kind of visibility for it,” Gates was quoted as saying. “After all, Microsoft’s position on a political bill, has that ever caused something to pass or not pass? Is it good, is it bad? I don’t know.”

Gates echoed the statement Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made in an e-mail to employees on Friday, explaining that the company decided before the legislative session began that it should to narrow its focus on a shorter list of issues directly affecting the business.

Two Microsoft employees had testified in support of the anti-discrimination measure.

The Rev. Ken Hutcherson of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond subsequently met with Microsoft executives and threatened to organize a national boycott of Microsoft products if it continued to support the bill.

Gates said he and Ballmer both support the measure personally but, “We won’t always pick every issue for the company to have a position on.”

Gay rights groups have said they feel betrayed.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center asked Microsoft to return a civil rights award it gave the company in 2001. Liberal Web bloggers have urged their critics to organize their own Microsoft boycott.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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