Wednesday, March 30, 2016
When the Georgia legislature passed a bill that would protect religious organizations when they discriminate against gay and transgender individuals, the business community reacted. The "religious freedom" bill would have permitted faith based organizations to discriminate because of sexual identity. In what were likely unnecessary provisions, the bill also would have protected clergy who decline to perform same sex marriages and those who would not attend weddings based on their religious beliefs.
The Georgia statue was not unique. It followed a wave of states passing similar legislation. Georgia's Governor Deal vetoed the bill, saying it was unnecessary to protecting religious freedom. He also claimed that his decision was a matter of "character" of the state. Deal said that "Georgia is a welcoming state." What was out of character for Governor Deal was his decision to veto the bill. But he had impressive economic pressure to do so.
Major corporations threatened to move their operations from Georgia. Fans of "The Walking Dead" would no longer see their show filmed on a Georgia landscape because AMC threatened to film elsewhere. Disney and Marvel joined AMC in stating that they are inclusive companies and would no longer film in Georgia. Perhaps the most economically powerful company that threatened to leave the state is Coca-Cola, for decades a major Atlanta employer. The National Football League announced that the chances of Atlanta hosting a super bowl would be hurt.
While businesses such as Bank of America in Charlotte, NC, have voiced concern about their state's recent array of anti-gay and transgender legislation, they did not assert their economic power to prevent the enactment of the bills. Granted, the NC bill was passed and signed into law during a twelve hour period. BOA and others (PayPal, Dow Chemical, NBA and Google) have voiced opposition but have not threatened any economic consequences.
By contrast, Georgia based businesses put money on the line. While re-locating a major business, such as Coca-Cola, would cost millions of dollars, the economic damage to the state would cost more.
Cheers to these Georgia businesses for using their power to effect positive change and promoting human rights principles along the way.