Such laws, opponents say, will give legal cover to those who decide not to provide services to LGBT people if they think doing so would "substantially burden" their religious freedom. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence has come under significant fire for signing his state's version of the bill into law. And in Arkansas, it could hardly go unnoticed that Wal-Mart is now voicing opposition as well. The retailer, which is based in Bentonville, Ark., is the largest private employer not only in the state but in the entire country.
Executives at another large Arkansas employer, the data company Acxiom, also pulled no punches in a letter to Gov. Hutchinson. Acxiom CEO Scott Howe and Chief Legal Officer Jerry Jones wrote in the letter that "simply stated, this bill inflicts pain on some of our citizens and disgrace upon us all. This bill will have the practical effect of excluding parents, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors from pursuing normal, everyday life, that straight citizens take for granted. That is not what Arkansas should stand for; we should be an ever forward-thinking state that strives for tolerance and inclusion of everyone, regardless of their differences."
The law in Indiana sparked an initial outcry from CEOs, which has since turned into a massive and passionate backlash from Corporate America. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff initiated the revolt, saying last week that the tech giant will cancel programs that would require customers or employees to travel to Indiana, and will "dramatically reduce" the company's investment in the state.
Angie's List CEO Bill Oesterle said he's putting a campus expansion project in Indianapolis on hold. Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman said it "is unconscionable to imagine that Yelp would create, maintain or expand a significant business presence in any state that encouraged discrimination by businesses." The CEOs of Gap and Levi's have weighed in. Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson has called Indiana's law "madness" and "idiocy." Warren Buffett has spoken out against it. The chief executives of major Indiana-based companies, ranging from Cummins to Eli Lilly to Anthem, co-signed a letter to Pence.
And then, of course, there was Apple CEO Tim Cook, who wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in which he called the bills "very dangerous" and warned that they "rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear." Cook wrote that "men and women have fought and died fighting to protect our country’s founding principles of freedom and equality. We owe it to them, to each other and to our future to continue to fight with our words and our actions to make sure we protect those ideals."
The outpouring of opposition from CEOs isn't the first time that corporate leaders have spoken out against such laws — they came out swinging before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year. But this time around, the revolt seems even more impassioned and, at times, even personal. "This isn't a political issue," wrote Cook in his op-ed. "It isn't a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage."