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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Battles Georgia Over Gay Rights

February 27, 2016, 1:54 AM UTC
Photograph by Noah Berger — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff is playing hardball with the state of Georgia over gay rights.

Benioff on Friday asked his followers via Twitter whether his business technology company should move some its operations from the Peach State because of a proposed religious freedom bill that would let businesses decline to provide services for same-sex couples.

The cloud software company is slated to host a technology conference in Atlanta in May for 15,000 people, but Benioff hinted that the company may relocate it because of the legislation.

Last week, Georgia’s senate passed an amended version of the bill that upset critics who said it sanctioned discrimination against gays and lesbians. The bill next goes to the House, which must agree to the changes before it can be passed.

The legislation would also let religious officials refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Critics have argued that the bill’s language could lead to people to refuse services based on their religious beliefs to same-sex couples, as in the case of last year when a Michigan doctor declined to treat a child with two mothers.

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“Nobody wants a discrimination law in America today,” Benioff told The Huffington Post. “But there are still bigots out there fighting for people to be discriminated against.”

Benioff said that that Salesforce would bring “economic sanctions” against Georgia if the bill becomes law, according to The Huffington Post.

Georgia State Sen. Joshua McKoon, a supporter of the bill, fought back against Benioff with his own tweets, in which he claimed it was hypocritical that Salesforce would threaten to pull out of Georgia despite operating in countries like India that have anti-gay laws.

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During an appearance on CNBC earlier this week, Benioff was asked about the recent legal battle between Apple (AAPL) and the U.S. Justice Department over a disputed iPhone used by a shooter in San Bernardino. Benioff instead responded that Apple CEO Tim Cook should go to Georgia to talk to government officials about the controversial bill.

In March, Benioff threatened to boycott the state of Indiana for a similar religious freedom bill that would allow businesses and religious officials to deny marriages and services to same-sex couples.

Benioff said Salesforce cancelled all company programs that would have required employees to travel to Indiana. Ultimately, Indiana passed the law, but also included a follow-up measure that reduced much of its impact to appease critics.