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Apple's Cook, other tech VIPs push back at Indiana 'anti-gay' law

CEO Tim Cook says Apple is "deeply disappointed" in law's passage, and other tech luminaries flex their economic muscle to put pressure on the state.

Apple employees march in San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade in this photo posted to Twitter by CEO Tim Cook last June. Cook and other tech execs are angry about a law passed in Indiana that critics say is discriminatory.
Apple employees march in San Francisco's Gay Pride Parade in this photo posted to Twitter by CEO Tim Cook last June. Cook and other tech execs are angry about a law passed in Indiana that critics say is discriminatory.Screenshot by CNET

Tech heavyweights including Apple CEO Tim Cook are pressuring the state of Indiana over a new "religious freedom" law critics say will be used to discriminate against gays and others.

Cook sent a tweet Friday saying Apple, one of the world's most successful companies and most popular brands, is "deeply disappointed" about the legislation. And Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, a major purveyor of corporate software and services, tweeted that the company would "dramatically reduce" its investments in the state. A Salesforce subsidiary employs from 2,000 to 3,000 people in Indiana, Benioff told tech site Recode, and also hosts a major customer event there that last year brought about $8 million in spending to the state.

The legislation in question, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was signed into law Thursday by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. It declares that an action by state or local government may not "substantially burden a person's right to the exercise of religion" unless it's shown that the action is "essential to further a compelling governmental interest" and is the "least restrictive means" of doing so.

Supporters say the law, based on federal legislation passed in 1993, will simply provide clear legal guidance on resolving matters involving religious freedom.

But some critics have said that last year's legalization of gay marriage in Indiana was the real driver behind the legislation. The head of the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union told USA Today last month that "the timing of the legislation suggests that it will be used to discriminate against the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community."

The federal version of the act has come into play in the case of a photographer who declined to record a same-sex commitment ceremony, and the case of a business seeking exemption from a federal law that required it to provide insurance coverage for emergency birth-control methods.

Cook came out publicly in October, saying "I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me."

The Apple and Salesforce CEOs were joined in their opposition to the Indiana law by Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO of crowdsourced business-reviews site Yelp, who posted an open letter on the topic.

"While Indiana is the most recent state to enact a law allowing for this kind of discrimination by businesses," Stoppelman wrote, "unfortunately measures are being debated in other states across the country that would follow Indiana's example. These laws set a terrible precedent that will likely harm the broader economic health of the states where they have been adopted, the businesses currently operating in those states and, most importantly, the consumers who could be victimized under these laws."

"It is unconscionable," Stoppelman continued, "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."

Timothy Slaper, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University, agreed that Indiana's passage of the law could have significant economic ramifications -- and said the fallout could last a long time.

"I'm concerned about the longer-term cultural implications in terms of the magnetism of the state to attract the young creative class -- the engineers or artists you want to have in your city and state to cultivate the ecosystem for entrepreneurs," Slaper told NBC. The "location decisions of companies like Salesforce" are key, he said, when it comes to "attracting this brain power for the next several decades."