Late Wednesday night, the Georgia state legislature passed a contentious bill that critics say will let organizations discriminate against gay people.
The next question is whether Gov. Nathan Deal will sign it into law. And Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has pledged to reduce the company's investments in the state if he does.
The bill would permit faith-based organizations to deny social, educational, and charitable services based on a "sincerely held religious belief" relating to marriage. Faith-based organizations would also be able to cite religious beliefs when making employment decisions.
The bill defines faith-based organizations as churches, religious schools, and mission groups. But critics fear the broad language of the bill could cover businesses, hospitals, adoption centers, and homeless shelters as well.
Thanks to the widespread attention on this bill, Deal isn't expected to sign or veto it immediately. He will have until May 3 to decide, Greg Bluestein at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
But first Deal will have to reckon with the displeasure of some 400 businesses that have joined Georgia Prospers, an organization urging the state to drop all antigay legislation and make Georgia "welcoming for all people."
One of the bill's most vocal opponents has been Benioff.
When word came that the bill passed the legislature on Wednesday, Benioff voiced his displeasure by tweeting, "One again Georgia is trying to pass laws that make it legal to discriminate. When will this insanity end?"
The company has since issued a statement that says in no uncertain terms, if Georgia passed the bill into law, Salesforce will "reduce investments" in the state, including moving one of its big tech conferences from Atlanta to another location.
A company representative sent us this statement (emphasis ours):
Salesforce is calling on Governor Deal to veto HB 757 because the legislation creates an environment of discrimination and makes the state of Georgia seem unwelcoming to same-sex couples and the LGBTQ community.
We were encouraged by Governor Deal's recent comments that he would veto any bill that allows the perception of discrimination and we are now calling on him to stand by his comments and move quickly to veto HB 757.
If HB 757 is not vetoed and instead becomes law, Salesforce will have to reduce investments in Georgia, including moving the Salesforce Connections conference to a state that provides a more welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community."
Benioff has been on a warpath over the bill since late February. That's when he initially threatened that if Georgia passes the bill, Salesforce will take business out of the state. He told analysts during Salesforce's quarterly earnings call:
"We're looking squarely at what's going on in Georgia with House Bill 757, which means that we may have to reduce our investments in the state of Georgia based on what we're seeing with the state government there as well."
He has also been warning for weeks on his Twitter feed that Salesforce will move its big tech conference out of Atlanta if the bill is passed.
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) February 26, 2016
That conference is scheduled to happen in mid-May. Given that the governor may not decide on the bill until May 3, it's hard to see how Salesforce will have time to move or cancel this year's show.
In any case, Benioff has also urged Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is gay, to speak up. During an interview with CNBC's Jim Cramer, he said, "I think what Tim Cook should be doing is getting down right now to the state of Georgia and talking to those leaders about House Bill 757."
Benioff tried and failed to get Indiana to drop a similar bill, but he did have luck pressuring Indiana to modify the law after it passed. Salesforce has huge operations in Indiana, and it threatened to take trade shows and other business elsewhere.
Indiana changed the language of its law to explicitly say it could not be used to justify discrimination.
That mollified Benioff enough, and he told Cramer that when it came to Georgia, "I hope that they see the light the way that the state of Indiana did."
In this case, at the last minute, the Georgia lawmakers added similar language to their bill before passing it after Deal told them he would not sign a bill that "allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith," the Journal-Constitution reports.
The compromise sent to him included language saying this statute could not be used to allow “discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law."
But in this case, Benioff and Salesforce are taking a firmer stance. The company wants the bill vetoed.
Other business leaders openly opposing the bill include Dell's Michael Dell, Virgin Group's Richard Branson, and Microsoft's Brad Smith.
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