Is tech pressure on Indiana's bigots charter paying off?

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan March 28, 2015
The technology industry's contempt for Indiana's legalised discrimination law seems to be having an effect and drawing a line in the sand. But it's going to be a long fight.

Indiana citizens take to the streets

A big question for the weekend was would Indiana’s under-fire governor blink over signing his state’s odious Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) after days of online onslaught from the tech industry? Media reports said he might. But in the event...

Rewind. Last week, Republican Governor - and potential US Presidential candidate - Mike Pence signed legislation that allows providers of goods and services to discriminate against customers on the grounds of religious belief without fear of legal retribution.

The immediate impact that’s been highlighted is that this gives business owners who opp!ose homosexuality for religious reasons, the right to turn away gay, lesbian and transgender people.

But replace gay with black, Asian, Muslim, female, Jewish or a hundred and one other words and it's clear that this is a charter for legalised bigotry.

As we noted last week in one of our most read postings, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff stepped up to the challenge and cancelled all Salesforce travel to and programs involving Indiana, home to the firm’s ExactTarget arm. He also stated that expansion plans in the state would not now be possible.

In the wake of that declaration, other tech leaders have thrown their voice behind Benioff’s actions.

Mike Gregoire, CEO of CA Technologies, said in an open letter:

As the CEO of CA Technologies, I would like to affirm that CA joins other CEOs in fighting discrimination. Governor Pence should veto the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) on the grounds that it clearly blurs the line between the separation of church and state, opening the door to blatant discrimination.

Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle announced that his company will abandon a $40 million deal with the state to expand the company’s headquarters in Indianapolis because of RFRA’s passage. He said:

We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' ono hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future. Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents.

This - and Salesforce’s threatened pull out - echoes the example set by Apple in the state of Arizona, where a similar law was vetoed at the 11th hour by Governor Jan Brewer. Apple had threatened to withdraw plans to build a global data command centre in the state if the legislation proceeded.

In the case of Indiana, Apple CEO Tim Cook endorsed Benioff’s stance in a tweet:

tim cook tweet

Another high profile objector in Arizona was Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of Yelp, who also backed Benioff’s stand in Indiana. He added a wider warning to other states considering similar legislation. Shockingly, there are 19 other states across the US with the same sort of laws in force.

In an open letter Stoppelman warns:

It is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain, or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination by businesses against our employees, or consumers at large. I encourage states that are considering passing laws like the one rejected by Arizona or adopted by Indiana to reconsider and abandon these discriminatory actions. (We’re looking at you, Arkansas.)

Arkansas has already passed a law that forbids local governments from adding anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Last week the Arkansas Senate overwhelmingly approved a Republican-backed bill that is essentially the same as the Indiana one.

Arkansas-born Charles Phillips, CEO of Infor, took to Twitter to express his disapproval:

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Meanwhile the economic price of Indiana’s law continues to mount. Cloudera's Vice President of Marketing, Alan Saldich, has pulled his company out of appearing at the high profile Indy Big Data Day conference in May:

cloudera tweet

Of course, there are those who take exception to what Benioff and his fellows have been saying and doing:

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This, as we highlighted last week, is the risk that a commercial company runs by taking a moral and ethical stand. I was pleased to read Benioff’s response to this particularly snide criticism:

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Governor Pence has now apparently had a “cordial” conversation with Benioff and had announced plans to “clarify” the legislation later this week, according to the Indiana media.

But as he still insists that the law is not a tool for discrimination and explicitly won’t consider any specific protected status for gay people to be factored in, it was premature to be celebrating too much just yet.

Pence's performance on Sunday morning news shows in the US today saw him duck and dive to avoid having to answer a straight question on discrimination. And his party line remains the same: no changes in his stance despite the "shameful rhetoric" of his critics.

He blinked briefly, but it looks like he's digging in now.

My take

An ‘argument’ I’ve heard aired in the past few days is that of why Indiana is being ‘picked on’ here when 19 other states have similar laws?

Well, apart from the basic idea of two wrongs not making a right, resistance to and revolution against bad law have to start somewhere.

There has to be a line in the sand and Indiana has became that, thanks in no small part to Benioff being prepared to talk and act tough and to use his influence and marketing skills to get the issue aired.

Box CEO Aaron Levie highlighted the ridiculous situation that Pence’s signing the Act into law has created for Indiana businesses:

aaron levie tweet

Hopefully as the economic implications sink in, the Indiana electorate and home-grown businesses will increasingly voice their own opposition.

Even if they’re not concerned about the discriminatory nature of the law, maybe some of the other implications of basing civil law on Christian biblical principles will sink in.

For example, Leviticus 3:17 says no to eating fat, so say bye-bye to your burgers and fries, Indiana folk.

In fact, no eating animals that don’t “both chew cud and has a divided hoof” (Leviticus 11:4-7) or shellfish or “any seafood without fins or scales” (Leviticus 11:10-12).

Make sure you keep up with your haircut schedule because if your hair’s a mess “you will die” according to Leviticus 10:6.

But do be careful because you’re not allowed to trim your beard (Leviticus 19:27) or cut your hair at the sides (Leviticus 19:27).

I could go on. But the point is, you don't get to pick and choose which bits of Biblical lore you choose to follow. All or nothing.

And if you’re living in a state where the law is able to restrict another group’s civil rights, then bear in mind one thing:  at some point, at some time, you’re next.

That’s why the lead being taken by Benioff and his fellow tech leaders is so important. And that’s why they have my full support. The line in the sand has been drawn. Even if Indiana does eventually blink in any meaningful way, that still leaves 19 other states to go. This is a long road to walk.

Disclosure: at time of writing, Infor and Salesforce are premier partners of diginomica. 

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