Metro Weekly

Georgia’s Republican House Speaker reiterates opposition to anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills

David Ralston declined to comment specifically on a bill to criminalize helping a child undergo a gender transition

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston – Photo: Facebook.

The Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives doubled down on his opposition to so-called “religious freedom” bills that allow people to deny goods and services to LGBTQ people and same-sex couples in a recent radio interview.

Speaking during a Nov. 6 appearance on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Political Rewind, Rep. David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) was asked about whether bills like those purporting to protect “religious freedom” or a proposed bill that would make it a felony to help transgender children transition were detrimental to the state because they might frighten away businesses with pro-LGBTQ policies.

In response, Ralston said he’s made his opposition to bills that seek to allow religiously-based refusals “pretty clear.” Prior to the 2019 legislative session, Ralston referred to such bills as “a solution in search of a problem.” At least one “religious freedom” bill is expected to be considered during the 2020 session, which starts in January.

“It’s a position that I’m comfortable on in my own conscience and in my faith,” Ralston said. “And I’m also comfortable when I look at the experience of other states [who have passed such legislation]. North Carolina. Indiana. Arkansas came real close.

“I’ve never had any leader from any of those states — and I’ve talked to some from all of them — say, ‘Y’all really oughta do this. It’s a great thing to do,'” he added.

Asked about a bill introduced by State Rep. Ginny Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs) that would criminalize doctors who prescribe medication, hormones, or perform gender confirmation surgery on minors — with potentially legal consequences for parents, as Ehrhart has previously stated — Ralston said he hadn’t talked with Ehrhart about her bill and didn’t automatically want to “lump in her bill” with any “religious freedom” legislation.

Instead, Ralston indicated he has a “great deal of respect” for Ehrhart, adding that she is a “very bright, capable member with a great future.”

“Anytime, though, that you have an issue that touches on the parent-child relationship and on medical ethics and those kinds of questions, there is a great sensitivity there and a great deal … they’re just tough issues,” Ralston said. “So I will read the bill if it gets in bill form.”

However, Ralston is mindful that playing up cultural issues to the detriment of other bills dealing with economics or good government may not play well in the state’s suburban areas, particularly those immediately north of Atlanta.

Otherwise, he warned, if Georgia Republicans “turn a blind eye” to recent election results in Kentucky, Virginia, and the Philadelphia suburbs that were favorable to Democrats could be putting themselves at risk of losing power.

Recently, Democrats in Virginia were able to flip control of the state’s General Assembly after waging a campaign that cast Republican House leaders as ineffective, extreme, and out of touch with suburban voters. 

“We’ve got to have a good message and communicate a good message in the suburban areas of our state,” Ralston said of the Georgia Republican Party’s strategy for future elections. “Much of our efforts are targeted in those areas, and I think the issues we’re focusing on in the run-up to this session, such as maternal mortality, and gang violence, and transportation and logistics, I think are issues that are going to resonate with those voters.”

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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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