In the heated debate over Indiana’s controversial new “religious freedom” law, the LGBT community has found something of a surprising ally in calling out its discrimination: Big business.
Both locally and nationally, corporations have placed pressure on lawmakers in both Indiana and Arkansas, whose governor said Wednesday that he is sending back similar “religious freedom” legislation to the state’s legislature for changes. After five days of backlash, Indiana Gov. Pence is also requesting his legislature submit a “fix” to Indiana’s law by the end of the week.
“I think many corporations recognize that equality is good for business,” said Jason Rahlan, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. “And discrimination isn’t.”
Perhaps it shouldn’t be such a surprise that big business has become an ally of the LGBT community. According to the Human Rights Campaign, many workplaces offer their employees better protections against discrimination than their governments.
The Human Rights Campaign’s 13th annual Corporate Equality Index found that 89 percent of Fortune-500 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. And two-thirds of those companies also include gender identity in their policies. The report also gave 366 businesses a score of 100 percent on corporate equality, up from just 13 in the report’s first year.
The key, the HRC’s Rahlan said, has been a driving shift in those companies’ workforces and in American public opinion. According to a recent CNN/ORC poll, 63 percent of Americans now believe that gay couples should have a constitutional right to get married. And according to Gallup, a record 66 percent of Americans consider gay and lesbian relations to be “morally acceptable. That’s an uptick of 26 percent since 2001.
“I think the American people realize what is the animus driving these anti-LGBT bills,” Rahlan said. “And that is the intent to discriminate. It’s wrong. There is no crisis of religious freedom in our country. There is a crisis by a select group of anti-equality activists who are seeking to put forward bills the American people disagree with, they oppose, and they fundamentally reject.”
But Pence and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson have heard from businesses and corporations far and wide condemning the laws. Here are just a few:
- Apple CEO Tim Cook published an op-ed Sunday in The Washington Post, calling the growing abundance of “religious freedom” laws in the country “dangerous.”
- Late Tuesday night, Walmart, which is headquartered in Arkansas, came out against the legislature’s bill and urged Hutchinson to veto it. They said it “threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion” in the state.
- NASCAR on Tuesday said it was “disappointed” in the legislation and said it would “not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance.”
- Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson called the bill “not just pure idiocy.” “The notion that you can tell businesses somehow that they are free to discriminate against people based on who they are is madness,” he said.
- Nike has taken credit for helping kill similar legislation in Oregon, where it is headquartered. CEO Mark Parker said the Indiana law was “bad for our employees, bad for our consumers, bad for business, and bad for society as a whole.”
- The CEOs of The Gap and Levi Strauss & Co. released a joint statement accusing Indiana and Arkansas of trying to “turn back the clock on equality and foster a culture of intolerance.”
- PayPal founder Max Levchin urged firms to “reevaluate” their ties with Indiana and other states promoting such legislation.
- Angie’s List, whose co-founder has described himself as a “proud” Republican, said it would halt an expansion of its headquarters because of the law’s passage. A spokeswoman declined further comment.
One company that Rahlan been singled out is Salesforce. Its CEO, Marc Benioff was one of seven CEOs who signed onto a letter to Pence, urging him to veto a bill that detractors say opens the door for discrimination against the LGBT community.
The day before the law was signed, he followed that up by tweeting a not-so-veiled threat:
Salesforce happens to be Indiana’s largest employer in the tech sector. And on Thursday, when Pence signed the bill into law, Benioff didn’t back down. He announced that Salesforce would cancel programs that require customers or employees to travel to Indiana. He also said Salesforce was considering offering financial assistance to employees who may want to move out of the state.
“Salesforce spoke out extremely early,” Rahlan said. “They were a leading voice in this.”
On Tuesday, Benioff was one of nine top Indiana executives who signed onto a letter calling on Pence to modify the law. The letter was released just hours before Pence held a press conference declaring he would do just that.
Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.