Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal is fond of referring to his state as the "No. 1 place in the nation" to do business. But the Republican governor has so far not indicated whether he'll heed a loud corporate chorus that he veto a measure to bolster legal safeguards for opponents of same-sex marriage. An 11th-hour effort by the state's lawmakers to make his signature on the bill more palatable failed.
The last-ditch effort came Thursday, the final day of the legislative session, with lawmakers working past midnight to finalize their work. A proposal that would have allowed workers or consumers to sue companies they felt had violated a nondiscrimination employment policy never made it to the floor.
The ill-fated amendment was seen as an offset to legislation passed by state lawmakers last week, that's awaiting a decision by Deal as to whether to reject what some view as Georgia's answer to the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage. The bill entitled "The Free Exercise Protection Act," would let faith-based organizations deny services to those who violate their "sincerely held religious belief" and protect their rights to fire employees who don't work in concert with those beliefs.
"We feel the people in the state of Georgia have the primary voice, and that's who the governor is going to listen to," Mike Griffin, a public affairs representative and lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told CBS MoneyWatch. "Our state should not be taken hostage by special interest groups and big business."
The political climate could be particularly acute as Deal makes a decision, Griffin added. "Here's the other thing, this is an election year in Georgia, every House and Senate seat is up for reelection."
While the controversial measure was being considered, Deal pivoted between statements that the measure was not part of his agenda to offering advice to lawmakers on how to word legislation that he would sign.
Deal was unavailable to comment, but "he has been very clear as to where he stands on this issue and will assess the legislation during bill review," Deal's spokesperson Jen Talaber Ryan emailed, while declining to elaborate further.
The governor has until May 3 to veto the measure, which would otherwise become law July 1.
Georgia already faces the possibility that the National Football League might take the state out of consideration for hosting a Super Bowl, and Walt Disney (DIS) has vowed that it would no longer do any business in the state should Deal sign the measure. And the list of businesses, ranging from Microsoft (MSFT) to Atlanta-based Coca-Cola (KO) and Home Depot (HD), that stand in opposition has lengthened.
On Thursday, Time Warner (TWX) added its voice to those urging Deal to veto the proposal. "We strongly oppose the discriminatory language and intent of Georgia's pending religious liberty bill," the company said in a statement. Time Warner added that all of its divisions -- HBO, Warner Bros. and Turner -- have business interests in Georgia, but especially Turner, which has been active in a coalition of businesses opposed to the measure.
A collection of Hollywood heavy hitters also threatens to take their business elsewhere.
In the last fiscal year, at least 248 films and TV productions were shot in Georgia, "adding at least $1.7 billion in direct spending to the state's economy," said a letter to Deal from the Human Rights Campaign. Only California and New York have bigger entertainment industry footprints, and both have statewide nondiscrimination laws.
"Unfortunately, Georgia not only lacks such a law, but could soon move from a bad situation to worse," stated the Human Rights Campaign letter, which was signed by actresses Anne Hathaway, Julianne Moore and Marisa Tomei, along with producers and directors Rob Reiner, Gus Van Sant and Harvey Weinstein, among many others.
In a tweet, Salesforce.com (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff questioned whether his tech company should exit that state if the measure becomes law. The San Francisco-based company, which has about 20,000 workers worldwide, employs more than 400 people in Georgia.
The controversy had one business in the state, 4A Graphics of Georgia, setting up a tongue-in-check page on its website purporting to offer marketing signs to businesses should the legislation become law, under the heading: "We don't discriminate. We just sell high-quality discrimination signs to people who do."