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Tech execs take a stand against pro-discrimination laws

Dozens of tech leaders speak up, joining Apple, Salesforce and Yelp honchos in criticizing so-called religious freedom laws being considered across the country.

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, has been one of the most critical opponents of Indiana's "religious freedom". James Martin/CNET

More than 70 executives from tech companies have joined Apple, Salesforce.com and others in speaking out against pending legislation across the country they say could be used to discriminate against people who are gay, lesbian and transgendered.

The heads of Twitter, eBay, Yelp and other tech firms issued a joint statement Wednesday saying they believe a wave of laws crafted in the name of "religious freedom" instead "put the rights of minorities at risk."

They asked legislators to instead protect sexual orientation and gender identity under civil rights laws.

"Anything less will only serve to place barriers between people, create hurdles to creativity and inclusion, and smother the kind of open and transparent society that is necessary to create the jobs of the future," the statement said. "Discrimination is bad for business."

On Thursday, just over 30 executives added their names to the nearly 40 who were on the original list. The additions include the CEOs of Microsoft, Intel and Netflix.

The tech industry's outcry has ignited debate throughout the country about the limits of religious actions in society. Some of the most powerful executives in Silicon Valley said they believe an Indiana law signed last week in the name of "religious freedom" is actually designed to discriminate against the gay community. In response, they have threatened to restrict travel by employees and stop investing in satellite offices there.

Indiana's Gov. Mike Pence responded saying the law is being misunderstood, and serves only to protect "a person's right to the exercise of religion." Still, he has said he is working with state legislators to clarify the law's intent.

Now that the tech industry has successfully drawn the nation's attention to gay rights in Indiana, some executives are hoping they can wage a wider campaign. In a statement Sunday, Apple's CEO Tim Cook said more than two dozen states have pending legislation that mirror Indiana's law.

"These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something that many of us hold dear," he said. "They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality."

Update April 2 at 10:29 a.m. PT: Added information about a second round of executives adding their name to the statement.