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San Francisco, Tech Companies, Boycott Indiana over Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Law

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (center, in cap and 'stunna shades') marches in the city's 2014 Pride parade. (Shiny Things/Flickr Creative Commons)

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (center, in cap and ‘stunna shades’) marches in the city’s 2014 Pride parade. (Shiny Things/Flickr Creative Commons)

The city of San Francisco has joined with a growing number of tech companies in boycotting Indiana over the conservative Midwestern state’s new anti-gay ‘religious freedom’ law.

In a statement released on Thursday, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee (D) condemned Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law earlier that day by Gov. Mike Pence (R), as “discriminatory.”

“[The law] legalizes discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals,” Lee’s statement read. “We stand united as San Franciscans to condemn Indiana’s new discriminatory law, and will work together to protect the civil rights of all Americans including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.”

“Effective immediately, I am directing City Departments under my authority to bar any publicly-funded City employee travel to the State of Indiana that is not absolutely essential to public health and safety,” the statement continued. “San Francisco taxpayers will not subsidize legally-sanctioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people by the State of Indiana.”

Largely viewed as a reaction to the wave of LGBT marriage equality sweeping America—37 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, and a US Supreme Court ruling on the issue is just months away, the Indiana law, which was backed by many religious and conservative organizations, could allow businesses and individuals to refuse to serve LGBT people on religious grounds.

All three Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—view homosexuality as an abomination, punishable by death in the holiest texts of all three sects.

Under the new law, individuals and businesses may refuse actions that impose a “substantial burden” on their religious beliefs. In the event a refusal is challenged in court, judges must balance the ‘religious burden’ against the state’s “compelling interest” in preventing discrimination.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action,” Pence said as he signed the bill into law.

“This bill is not about discrimination,” he insisted, “and if I thought it legalized discrimination I would have vetoed it.”

But opponents say it’s exactly about discrimination under the guise of ‘freedom.’

“The Indiana General Assembly and Governor have sent a dangerous and discriminatory message with this new law,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director at Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s most prominent LGBT advocacy group, said in a statement. “They’ve basically said, as long as your religion tells you to, it’s ok to discriminate against people despite what the law says.”

“This new law hurts the reputation of Indiana and will have unacceptable implications for LGBT people and other minorities throughout the state,” Warbelow continued. “Astoundingly, Indiana representatives ignored the warnings of businesses and fair-minded Hoosiers, and now businesses owners and corporations are forced to consider other options when looking at states to invest in.”

Indeed, a growing number of corporations, many of them tech companies based in the San Francisco Bay Area—the US metro area with the highest per-capita LGBT population, have announced boycotts of Indiana in response to the law.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced he is canceling all company events in Indiana, or which require employees or clients to travel there, in protest of the discriminatory law. Benioff also said the $4 billion San Francisco-based cloud computing company will reduce investment in Indiana due to “outrage” over the measure.

Angie’s List Inc., the company behind the popular business rating website, announced it was canceling a planned expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters over the law.

“We are putting the ‘Ford Building Project’ on hold until we fully understand the implications of the Freedom Restoration Act on our employees, both current and future,” Angie’s List Chief Executive Bill Oesterle said in a statement.

“Angie’s List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents,” Oesterle added.

The ubiquitous business review site Yelp also hinted it would take action in response to the law.

“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,” the San Francisco-based company said in a blog post.

While not announcing any boycott, Apple CEO Tim Cook, who is gay, tweeted, “Apple is open for everyone. We are deeply disappointed in Indiana’s new law and calling on Arkansas Gov. to veto the similar #HB1228.”

Opposition to the new law went far beyond just tech companies. Gen Con, the popular comics and gaming convention held annually in Indianapolis, has threatened to move the event elsewhere.

“Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state’s economy and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years,” Gen Con Chief Executive Adrian Swartout said.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which says it is “especially concerned” about the law, also said it is considering an appropriate response, which could include relocating future tournaments from Indiana. The NCAA Final Four collegiate basketball championship tournament will take place in Indianapolis next week.

“Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce, as well as local employers including Alcoa, Cummins, Eli Lilly & Co, have also voiced their opposition to the law.

San Francisco, a famously progressive city, has boycotted states over discriminatory laws before. When Arizona passed SB 1070, a harsh anti-undocumented immigration law in 2010, city leaders suspended all non-essential travel for city employees to the neighboring state. Boycotts over SB 1070 cost Arizona $141 million in lost meeting and convention business, according to a Center for American Progress report.

Arkansas may be next in the boycotters’ cross hairs, as the state Senate there on Friday overwhelmingly approved a Republican-backed ‘religious freedom’ bill critics say could allow businesses to refuse service to LGBT would-be patrons. Many companies, including Bentonville, Arkansas-based Walmart, have expressed opposition to the measure.

“We feel this legislation is counter to this 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 world’s largest retailer said in a statement.

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