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Apple’s gay-rights bully pulpit

Two big news stories — one political, one technological — collided Monday on the op-ed page of the Washington Post.

Apple CEO Tim Cook used the page to take a stand against anti-gay “religious freedom” laws like the one signed last week in Indiana.

This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous.”

Cook’s message could pack some punch. He is the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. And not just any Fortune 500 company, but one of the world’s most admired, with hundreds of millions of loyal, relatively well-heeled customers.

“America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business,” he writes. “That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges.”

That Cook was willing to take sides on so divisive an issue only weeks before the biggest product launch of his career means a lot.

He has, in effect, thrown the weight of the Apple Watch — the marketing budget and the media spotlight — against those who would discriminate against gays in the name of their religion.

Cook has some credibility here. As a boy growing up secretly gay in a southern Baptist culture, he knows bigotry when he sees it. “Discrimination,” he writes, “doesn’t always stare you in the face. It moves in the shadows. And sometimes it shrouds itself within the very laws meant to protect us.”

Moreover, as someone who witnessed a KKK cross burning, he can speak with some authority about “the days of segregation and discrimination marked by ‘Whites Only’ signs on shop doors, water fountains and restrooms.”

These are fighting words, and it will be interesting to see how far Cook is willing to push it. He has some say, for example, in where Apple locates new factories, solar farms, data centers and retail outlets. (There are two Apple Stores in Indiana and only one in Arkansas.)

And rather than leave his fortune to charity, as he told Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky he would, he could give the Koch brothers a run for their money in tight political races where anti-discrimination is an issue.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.