In an op-ed in Monday's Washington Post, Apple chief executive Cook spoke out strongly against an Indiana law that would allows businesses to refuse service to certain people -- such as gay or lesbian customers -- for religious reasons. Cook, who is the first openly gay chief executive in the Fortune 500, wrote that this law and others like it "rationalize injustice" and could undo "decades of progress" the country has made toward equal rights. Alluding to his personal experiences growing up in the South, Cook writes:

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.

The move shows a couple of things about Cook, as he heads into his fourth year as Apple's chief executive. First, it indicates that Cook is becoming increasingly confident in his role. In many ways, Cook is still emerging from the shadow of his predecessor, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs; one need only read the coverage of the latest  Jobs biography to see how Jobs's memory lives on in popular culture.

Jobs himself didn't often weigh in on political issues, and rarely had Apple do so as a company. Cook has stepped up Apple's philanthropic efforts (he's also said he's going to give a majority of his wealth to charity after his death, but hasn't said to which charities.) But, generally speaking, Cook hasn't deviated much from the Jobs playbook -- and has received harsh criticism when he has.

That makes the timing of this op-ed all the more interesting. Apple is on the verge of launching its first major new product developed under Cook's leadership -- the Apple Watch -- and it's a major test for the executive as he strives to show Apple hasn't lost its magic touch. To be willing to stir the pot even a little bit and risk distracting from that focus shows that this means a lot to Cook and that he's fairly confident that Apple, the world's most valuable company, can weather whatever controversy his view might throw its way.

It's arguably a different kind of innovation for Apple -- not of product or service, but of company culture.

It also shows that Cook, who's known for his careful and occasionally dispassionate communication style, is on a path to becoming a full-blown culture warrior.

He's not quite there yet: Other tech industry leaders have also spoken out against the law, notably Salesforce's Marc Benioff, who said that his company would "dramatically reduce" investment in Indiana and cancel all company programs that would take his employees to Indiana.

Cook hasn't done anything nearly as drastic -- it's not as if he's refusing to sell iPhones to Hoosiers -- but the Apple chief executive has been increasingly outspoken over the years, making his views about climate change and marriage equality clear in public statements and in shareholder meetings. Cook once even told a representative from the National Center for Public Policy Research at an investor meeting that he could "get out of this stock" if he didn't like Apple's stance on environmental issues.

With this editorial, it seems Cook is equally willing to take a personal stand on the issue of equal rights and is even going so far as to say on Twitter that the company -- not just Cook as an individual -- is "disappointed" in laws such as Indiana's.

As for Apple's stock, the declaration hasn't seemed to cause panic. The stock was up nearly 2 percent in midday trading, to just over $125 per share.