Big Mississippi employers oppose anti-gay law

Last Updated Apr 5, 2016 4:52 PM EDT

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has in the past lamented the lack of a Fortune 500 company in his state, saying its low corporate tax rate and union membership should make it an attractive market for a major company to locate its headquarters.

On Tuesday, Bryant found the Magnolia State to be the latest facing a corporate backlash after he signed a measure making it legal to deny goods and services to gay people. Mississippi now joins North Carolina in drawing an outcry after adopting an anti-gay measure, while Nathan Deal, Georgia's two-term governor, recently vetoed a bill offering barriers to same-sex marriage after dozens of corporate heavy-hitters urged him to do so.

Bryant had been urged to veto the measure by the 2,100-member Mississippi Manufacturers Association, or MMA. "We have seen the negative attention that Georgia and North Carolina have received on this issue and have now seen the attention shift towards Mississippi," the trade group said Monday in a statement. It called on Bryant to reject the bill "before it causes any more harm to Mississippi's image."

Saying it feared "future economic development opportunities will be jeopardized if HB 1523 is signed into law," it listed some of Mississippi's largest employers such as Nissan (NSANY), Toyota (TM), and Ingalls Shipbuilding (HII) as opposing the law.

In the wake of Bryant's signing the bill into law, the association said its "position continues to reflect the concerns manufacturers have with this bill and its potential to conflict with their policies of diversity and inclusion. However, the MMA respects the wishes of the legislature and governor."

MGM Resorts (MGM), which employs about 4,400 people at two resorts in the state -- Beau Rivage in Biloxi and Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica -- said it was disappointed that the legislation had become law and warned that it would hurt tourism and the state's economy.

"We respect the diversity of our employees, our guests and the people in our communities," an MGM Resorts spokeswoman said in an email. "Laws that permit businesses to decline to provide services to individuals because of this diversity will result in discrimination, decreased tourism and harm to the state's economy."

Nissan, which employs about 6,500 people at an assembly plant in Canton, Mississippi, said the law runs counter to its principles. "It is Nissan's policy to prohibit discrimination of any type, and we oppose any legislation that would allow discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals," the automaker said in an emailed statement.

Another large employer in Mississippi, Huntington Ingalls Industries, also objected, saying it's "committed to creating an inclusive environment where diversity is not only respected, but is considered to be of value. Therefore we do not support any efforts, including legislation, that does not support that."

Huntington employs about 11,500 workers at a shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

"AT&T supports our freedom of speech and religion just as vigorously as we oppose discrimination," an AT&T (T) spokesman said in an email. "Legislation that permits discrimination against any of our employees or customers conflicts with our core values. Our position on discrimination is simple; we oppose it."

Toyota, which employs roughly 2,000 at a manufacturing plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi, also voiced its displeasure, saying in a statement: "Toyota does not condone discrimination in any form and believes that inclusive treatment of all people is good for the workplace, marketplace and society as a whole."