A lesbian couple walks into a bakery in Indiana. The owner, a conservative Christian who doesn’t believe in gay marriage, refuses to make them a cake for their wedding day.
The couple walks out. They’re furious, sad, and disappointed—but legally, there’s nothing they can do.
No, this isn’t the ’50s. It’s modern-day Indiana. On March 27, 2015, Governor Mike Pence signed a bill allowing Indiana business owners to refuse service to LGBT customers.
Known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law stops the government from “substantially burdening” a person’s religious freedom without compelling government interest.
In other words, if a baker’s religious views mean he considers gay marriage a sin, he (or she) can turn away gay couples.
“It is vitally important to protect religious freedom in Indiana,” said Eric Miller of Advance America, a conservative non-profit. “It was therefore important to pass Senate Bill 101 in 2015 in order to help protect churches, Christian businesses, and individuals from those who want to punish them because of their Biblical beliefs!”
But many businesses don’t feel they need any such “protection”; conversely, they’re criticizing the Indiana legislators and governor for allowing such an outrageous (yes, I said it) policy to become law.
One of the most vocal opponents in the corporate world has been Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff. Salesforce is worth $4 billion and employs over 12,000 people, so when Benioff speaks, others listen.
Before the bill was passed, Salesforce made its objections very clear:
“We have been an active member of the Indiana business community and a key job creator for more than a decade. Our success is fundamentally based on our ability to attract and retain the best and most diverse pool of highly skilled employees, regardless of gender, religious affiliation, ethnicity or sexual orientation…
Without an open business environment that welcomes all residents and visitors, Salesforce will be unable to continue building on its tradition of marketing innovation in Indianapolis.”
That was no empty threat. Hours after Pence signed, Benioff announced Salesforce was “canceling all programs that require customers/employees to travel to Indiana.”
He also asked “other tech CEOs and tech industry leaders to please take a stand.”
Some of them have. Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple who’s also openly gay, tweeted his disapproval of the bill:
“Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.”
Jeremy Stoppelman, the co-founder of Yelp, also shared his thoughts:
“It is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain, or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination.”
If Arkansas passes a similar bill (the one Cook is also protesting), Yelp has threatened to remove itself from that state as well.
“We certainly understand the implications this legislation has on our ability to attract and retain employees. Simply put, we believe discriminatory legislation is bad for Indiana and for business.”
Even the city of San Francisco is speaking up. Mayor Edwin M. Lee has banned all city-funded trips to Indiana, saying San Franciscans “condemn” the discriminatory law and “will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by the state of Indiana.”
Walmart Inc., historically one of Indiana’s biggest employers, hasn’t said anything about the Indiana law, but has expressed concern about the Arkansas version.
“While HB1228 will not change how we treat our associates and operate our business, we feel this legislation is also counter to our core basic belief of respect for the individual and sends the wrong message about Arkansas, as well as the diverse environment which exists in the state.”
The big Indiana businesses not speaking up? Well, many of them—including Purdue University and Indiana University—are public entities; it would be pretty surprising if they criticized the state’s actions.
However, major corporations Delphi Electronics & Safety, Clarian Health Partners Inc., and Arcelor Mittal Burns Harbor don’t have the same constraints. It will be interesting to see whether they use their economic sway to attack the bill or stay silent—and safe.
I applaud the corporations that have taken a stand. This is an issue that connects corporations and social issues in the clearest way possible. Hopefully, these companies’ bold stances—combined with public outrage—will be enough to reverse this legislation.
**Update, April 3, 2015: Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff has announced this week that the company will provide out-of-state transfers (including relocation assistance up to $50,000) for Indiana-based Salesforce employees who are unhappy remaining in the state.
Consumer-review website Angie’s List has also backed out of a major deal to expand the company’s Indianapolis-based headquarters. This expansion would have added hundreds of jobs, and $40 million in revenue for the city. Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle released a statement surrounding this decision:
“Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents.”
Aja Frost is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a regular contributor to Her Campus, The Prospect, and her college newspaper. Her work has been featured on xoJane and The Huffington Post. The only thing she loves more than writing is dessert. Follow her on Twitter: @ajavuu.