Marc Benioff won't be the last CEO to write off doing business in Indiana in the days to come.
On Thursday, the Salesforce.com founder took a firm stance against a law that would allows Indiana businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, saying he will cancel future events in the Hoosier state. Now, more Silicon Valley executives are following his lead.
Earlier this week, in a closed-door ceremony attended by religious leaders from the state, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed legislation that would effectively give religious business owners a nearly unfettered ability to discriminate against customers they disapprove of for religious reasons. The Indiana bill, and similar legislation that has cropped up around the country, is meant as a defensive maneuver for businesses that object to serving same-sex couples who can now legally marry in 36 states. There's also potential for the law to allow businesses to discriminate against anyone--not just those who identify as LGBT--based on religion.
"If you have religious views that you don't want to serve a divorcee, there is the potential for that," says Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, or NGLCC, the largest advocacy group for LGBT-owned businesses in the U.S., with 38 affiliate chambers in the U.S., representing 12,000 members.
Salesforce.com declined an interview, but here's what Benioff had to say on Twitter:
Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination. http://t.co/SvTwyCHxvE-; Marc Benioff (@Benioff) March 26, 2015
Apple CEO Tim Cook, who came out as gay in October weighed in on the issue as well on Friday:
Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana's new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.-; Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 27, 2015
And PayPal co-founder and serial entrepreneur Max Levchin had this to say on Twitter Thursday:
What is happening in Indiana is pretty unbelievable. However it’s dressed up, it’s a signal that discrimination is welcome in this state.-; Max Levchin (@mlevchin) March 26, 2015
Yet, as Yelp chief executive Jeremy Stoppelman noted, many states are considering similar legislation. On Thursday, Stoppelman issued an open letter to all states with pending bills that would allow businesses to discriminate against customers. Here's what he had to say:
I hope that in the future the legislatures in the nineteen states that have these laws on the books will reconsider their actions. In the mean time, Yelp will make every effort to expand its corporate presence only in states that do not have these laws allowing for discrimination on the books.
In February, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback issued an executive order that removes LGBT people from the state's anti-discrimination laws. Mississippi and Tennessee governors signed bills a year ago that allow for discrimination based on religion. And Oklahoma legislature has introduced 12 bills since the beginning of the year that would do the same.
Arizona business owners pushed hard to beat back their own anti-LGBT state law, which was eventually vetoed by governor Jan Brewer last February.
The bills add to Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation that has existed in numerous states since the 1990s. Such legislation, known as RFRA, provides businesses and individuals in states with a way to opt out of federal laws they deem to be infringing on their religious practices. The new RFRA bills take the lead from the Supreme Court's ruling in June of last year on Hobby Lobby, which exempts companies from offering contraception, or other medical care they object to on religious grounds, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
Legal experts, such as Katherine Franke, a professor of law and director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality at Columbia University, in New York, say the new RFRA laws are treading questionable legal ground. Among other reasons, businesses are licensed public accommodations.
"If you own a business that serves the public, the idea that you can pick and choose whom [you are] serving is ludicrous," Franke said in an earlier interview with Inc.
Nelson says the NGLCC and other business groups are now lobbying aggressively in Nevada, to prevent a copycat religious discrimination bill from passing in that state. The NGLCC has committed to holding its international business leadership conference in Las Vegas every three years, which brings the city $1.4 million in revenue. If the bill passes, the NGLCC will not return, Nelson says.
"These bills are abhorrent, and it's hard to believe that decision makers are not considering the business implications of this ludicrous legislation on their states," Nelson says.