Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff says he has canceled all his company’s events in the state of Indiana after its governor signed into law a bill that makes it legal for individuals to use religious grounds as a defense when they are sued by people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
And in an interview with Re/code, Benioff threatened the state with a “slow rolling of economic sanctions” if the law is not thrown out.
“We’ve made significant investments in Indiana. We run major marketing events and conferences there. We’re a major source of income and revenue to the state of Indiana, but we simply cannot support this kind of legislation,” Benioff said in a phone interview.
Gov. Mike Pence signed the bill, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act today, and said in a statement that people of Indiana “feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.” The bill, now a law, allows any person or corporation to cite religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party. The intent of the bill is to give companies and business owners legal cover if they don’t want to do business with same-sex couples.
Benioff said that Salesforce employs between 2,000 and 3,000 people in the state, owing largely to its 2013 acquisition of ExactTarget, an email marketing company based in Indianapolis. Salesforce paid $2.5 billion for it, and Benioff later described the acquisition as a “perfect fit.”
Since 2007, ExactTarget has hosted its most important customer event, called Connections, in Indianapolis. Last year it drew 10,000 people and about $8 million in spending to Indianapolis. Salesforce announced it would move the event to New York in September. Benioff says there are other events that will be canceled as well. “We can’t bring our customers or our employees into a situation where they might be discriminated against,” he said. “We have a large number of employees and customers who would be impacted dramatically by this legislation. … I’m really just advocating on their behalf.”
Canceling events may be just the start. Benioff didn’t say what other actions he might take to protest the law and to try to get it reversed. But he said he hopes that other tech CEOs who have operations in Indiana will follow his lead.
“Gov. Pence says he wants to bring the tech industry to Indiana and to increase the number of tech-related jobs in his state, but he doesn’t seem to understand that a significant portion of the tech industry is gay,” Benioff said. “This is one of the most important industries in the country and he has been advocating for us to expand and invest in Indiana, but you can’t say that and then say you’re going to legalize discrimination like this. The tech industry is not going to support this kind of legislation and is going to react against it.”
In his statement, Pence argued that the bill isn’t about allowing discrimination. He said it doesn’t apply to disputes between private parties unless a government action of some type is involved. The law is related to last year’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case establishing that private companies can’t be compelled by federal rules to provide access to contraception as part of their health-care plans.
A spokeswoman for Pence said by email without elaborating that the governor had “reached out personally to Marc [Benioff] to discuss his concerns.”
Benioff first announced his decision on Twitter.
Update: Benioff and Salesforce aren’t the first to threaten to take events out of Indiana in response to this bill. As the IndyStar reported today the organizers of Gen Con, a huge gaming conference that last year attracted 56,000 people and spurred $50 million in local economic impact says it will take its events elsewhere. However it’s under contract to remain in Indiana through the year 2020, so the decision could take awhile to have an effect.
And if that weren’t enough The New York Times is reporting that the N.C.A.A. the governing body of college sports — which is also based in Indianapolis — is hinting that it might stop staging competitions in the state in reaction to the bill.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.