Tech Giant Salesforce Threatens To Leave Georgia Over Anti-Gay Religious Freedom Bill

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A week after Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and a Georgia lawmaker publicly clashed after Benioff threatened to divest from the state due to a bill that many believe would restrict gay rights, the San Francisco-based software firm backed up its concerns with a letter to the state legislature.

Georgia lawmakers approved legislation that combined two anti-gay bills: the “Pastor Protection Act,” which would assure clergy they would not have to perform same-sex marriages; and the “First Amendment Defense Act,” which would allow religious nonprofits to deny services to same-sex marriages.

“As one of Georgia’s fastest growing technology employers, Salesforce believes that HB 757 in its current form creates an environment of discrimination that is inconsistent with our values and I am writing to register our opposition to this bill,” according to the open-letter signed by Salesforce Senior Vice President Warren Wick. “Without an open business environment that welcomes all residents and visitors, Salesforce will be unable to continue building on its tradition of innovation in Georgia.”

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“Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, or any other classification protected by applicable laws.”

“Equality is a core value at Salesforce and ensuring that our employees feel welcome, valued, and safe is a top priority,” the letter continued. “We encourage you to take decisive action to avoid this kind of damage and reaffirm that our state will not tolerate discrimination against people because of who they are or who they love.”

The letter comes days after Benioff expressed his opposition to Georgia’s proposed legislation on a conference call with analysts.

“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…,” Benioff said. “And I hope that they see the light the way that the state of Indiana did.”

Last Friday, Benioff asked his social media followers whether he should move Connections, the company’s digital marketing event slated for May, out of Atlanta if the bill becomes law.

That’s when Republican Georgia Sen. Joshua McKoon, who voted for the measure, defended his bill by calling Salesforce hypocritical for operating in India and Singapore, which currently have controversial provisions that criminalize homosexual acts.

McKoon told CNBC that he wanted Salesforce “to immediately shutter all business operations in India and Singapore in accordance with [Benioff’s] publicly stated positions,” adding that he would be “delighted” to debate the issue with Benioff in an open forum. He argued that the measure in Georgia “merely ensures the government will not punish an individual or organization for the views they hold.”

Benioff and McKoon continued their public discussion of the issue on Twitter throughout the day. Benioff shared messages from his supporters and even sent a bible verse to McKoon.

Salesforce is already a proud member of Georgia Prospers, a coalition of 400 businesses opposed to the bill.

Dell, Microsoft,Twitter, Virgin, Unilever, InterContinental Hotels Group and Porsche, have also signed up to the group, and several CEOs have taken to Twitter to indicate their support for Benioff’s public stance.

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Benioff writes:

I sent an email on Friday to 25-30 of my friends who are all CEOs of global companies. So now we’re seeing a wave of CEOs on Twitter saying, “We’re going to do the same thing”. We just need to let those legislators in Georgia know, “Hey, [if] you’re going to do that to our employees and our customers, there will be economic consequences”. There will be a kind of rolling thunder of economic sanctions if they sign that bill.