Metro Weekly

Georgia lawmakers planning series of debates over “religious liberty” legislation

Senators Greg Kirk and Vincent Fort will take their ongoing legislative fight in front of the public next month

Sen. Greg Kirk - Photo: Georgia State Senate.

Sen. Greg Kirk – Photo: Georgia State Senate.

Just when you thought the debate over “religious liberty” legislation was over, Georgia has decided to revive it for the fourth year in a row. This time, though, a Republican and a Democrat are hoping to take their arguments over a proposed measure outside of the legislative chamber and air them in front of the broader public, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

State Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), the sponsor of a “religious freedom” bill that was eventually vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) earlier this year, and Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) are planning to have four debates in September. They will argue over the merits of a bill that would allow individuals or businesses to discriminate against or refuse service to LGBT people by citing sincerely held religious beliefs.

Kirk and Fort have been working with the Georgia Press Association and the Georgia Association of Broadcasters to plan the format of and schedule dates for the debates. One is expected to be held inside an Atlanta church, and the other three at Savannah State University, Mercer University, and the University of Georgia’s campus conference center in Tifton.

The debates are being billed as a prelude to the 2017 legislative session, when conservative lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill similar to the one vetoed this year. Republican lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to override Deal’s veto, and vowed to re-introduce an almost identical measure. Now, it seems they’re following through.

In many ways, the fate of any such “religious liberty” measure could be linked to the fate of Gov. Pat McCrory in North Carolina, who has tethered his campaign to the state’s controversial HB 2 law. Recent polling indicates that the law, and the perception that it unfairly discriminates against people, is hurting McCrory’s chances of re-election

If McCrory loses, it could give Georgia lawmakers (and those from other states) pause before attempting to ram through yet another bill that seeks to deny service to LGBT people. But should McCrory survive this November, the threat to LGBT Georgians rises once more.

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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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