Metro Weekly

Georgia governor will veto anti-gay “religious freedom” bill

Decision comes after significant pressure from business community and threats of economic boycott

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (Photo: Office of the Governor).

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (Photo: Office of the Governor).

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) will veto a bill that could allow individuals or businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.

In a press conference on Monday morning, Deal explained that he would veto the bill, arguing that the measure “doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of its people,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Deal also said that lawmakers should leave freedom of religion and freedom of speech to the U.S. Constitution, an argument that was put forth by LGBT advocates when the bill was moving through the legislature, noting that the First Amendment contains very broad protections and already protects clergy from solemnizing or participating in marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

“Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment,” Deal said in his prepared remarks.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly by the Republican-dominated legislature, initially sought to provide special protections for clergy and religiously-affiliated organizations. But lawmakers subsequently expanded it to provide broader protections for those who object to same-sex marriage or homosexuality, prompting critics of the measure to argue that it would condone discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

Following the passage of the bill, the business community and the film industry both threatened retaliation in the form of reduced investments, ceasing production, or moving their headquarters out of state should the bill become law. And the NFL warned that the bill’s passage could imperil the city of Atlanta’s chance to host the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020. Still others warned that approving the measure could make Georgia the target of economic boycotts that would invariably hurt the state financially.

 

Some Republicans in the legislature are already calling on their fellow lawmakers to override the veto. The original vote fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for an override in both chambers, meaning social conservatives will have to scramble to gather the necessary votes, and may still end up falling short.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of several national LGBT organizations that opposed the bill’s passage, issued a statement celebrating Deal’s decision to veto it. 

“The message to Governor Nathan Deal was loud and clear: this deplorable legislation was bad for his constituents, bad for business, and bad for Georgia’s future,” HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement. “Discrimination and intolerance have no place in the 21st century, and any town, city or state that enshrines it into law will not be judged kindly by history or by the American public. Thankfully, Governor Deal listened to the voices of Georgians, civil rights organizations, as well as the many leaders in the entertainment industry and in the private sector who strongly condemned this deplorable attack on the fundamental civil rights of LGBT people.”

Griffin then turned his fire to North Carolina, where legislators passed and the governor signed a bill reversing a pro-LGBT ordinance in Charlotte and taking away the ability of any municipality to pass any similar ordinances. Much in the same way that Georgia was threatened with fallout from its anti-LGBT initiative, North Carolina is experiencing similar threats, including proposed travel bans, economic boycotts, and other measures designed to punish the state for its newly approved and sweeping anti-LGBT law.

“We hope that North Carolina’s governor and General Assembly are paying close attention to what has transpired in Georgia, and that they undo their disgraceful attack on LGBT people in the state’s upcoming legislative session,” he said.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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