Late Wednesday night, the Georgia state legislature passed a contentious bill that critics say will let organisations discriminate against gay people.
The next question is: will Governor Nathan Deal sign it into law? Thanks to the widespread attention on this bill, he isn’t expected to sign or veto immediately. He’ll have until May 3 to decide, reports Greg Bluestein at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
But first, Deal will have to deal with the displeasure of some 400 businesses who have joined Georgia Propsers, an organisation urging the state to drop all anti-gay legislation and make Georgia “welcoming for all people.”
Businesses leaders openly opposing the bill include Dell’s Michael Dell, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, and Microsoft’s Brad Smith.
But one of the most vocal has been Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.
When word that the bill passed 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?”
Benioff has been on a major warpath over the bill since late February, threatening 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’s also posted on his twitter feed a poll suggesting that Salesforce would move a big tech conference out of Atlanta.
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 would have time to move or cancel the show for this year.
In any case, Benioff has also urged Apple CEO Tim Cook 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, he did have luck pressuring Indiana to modify the law after it passed. Salesforce has huge operations in the Indiana and also threatened to take trade shows and other business elsewhere.
Indiana changed the language of the law to explicitly state it could not be used to justify discrimination.
That mollified Benioff enough and Benioff told Cramer that when it comes 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 Gov. Deal told them would not sign a bill that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,” the AJC reports. The compromise sent to him included language saying this statute cannot be used to allow “discrimination on any grounds prohibited by federal or state law.”
So what does it do? It permits faith-based organisations to deny social, educational, and charitable services based on a “sincerely held religious belief” relating to marriage. Faith-based organisations can also cite religious beliefs when making employment decisions.
The bill defines faith-based organisations as churches, religious schools, and mission groups. But critics fear the broad language of the bill could cover businesses, hospitals, adoption centres, and homeless shelters as well.