Gold Dome bat­tles

Legal pro­tec­tions neede for LGBT Ge­or­gians.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

The big­gest stick­ing point raised in Ge­or­gia’s lat­est fight over a so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” bill was the pos­si­bil­ity that pas­sage of the bill would lead to more LGBT dis­crim­i­na­tion, with the most of­ten-cited ex­am­ple be­ing a busi­ness owner deny­ing ser­vice to some­one based on the busi­ness owner’s re­li­gious be­liefs.

Lost in the shuf­fle of the con­stant backand-forth ar­gu­ments, the press con­fer­ences, the ral­lies, the hear­ings, and the in­flamed rhetoric was a sim­ple fact—it’s al­ready legal to dis­crim­i­nate un­der state law.

“That is true,” says Jeff Gra­ham, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Ge­or­gia Equal­ity. “The one big caveat to that is that we have a broad or­di­nance here in the city of At­lanta and then there are other or­di­nances and poli­cies passed by 59 other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties across the state that of­fer lesser pro­tec­tions.”

It’s one of the only things Gra­ham and state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Colum­bus) seem to agree on con­cern­ing the is­sue. McKoon’s re­li­gious free­dom bill, SB 129, failed to pass in this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion. The bill had passed in the Se­nate, had mo­men­tum and ap­peared to be on the verge of reach­ing a vote on the House floor when state Sen. Mike Ja­cobs (R-Brookhaven) in­tro­duced an anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion amend­ment dur­ing a March 26 House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing.

The amend­ment passed 9 to 8, with Rep. Jay Pow­ell (R-Camilla) and Rep. Beth Be­skin (R-At­lanta) join­ing all six Democrats on the com­mit­tee vot­ing in fa­vor. Sup­port­ers of the bill warned that such an amend­ment would “gut” the bill, and it never re­cov­ered.

But in the days fol­low­ing the end of the ses­sion, McKoon started hint­ing in var­i­ous in­ter­views about a way around the is­sue— have the de­bate over dis­crim­i­na­tion, but do it in a sep­a­rate bill, i.e. a statewide nondis­crim­i­na­tion bill of­fer­ing sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity pro­tec­tions.

“I think that is a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent de­bate,” McKoon, who re­fused to dis­cuss the mat­ter with the Ge­or­gia Voice, said on WABE 90.1 FM on April 13. “I think that one of the ob­jec­tives of the op­po­si­tion to this bill has been to cre­ate con­fu­sion about this is­sue to then lever­age it to try to get us to talk about that is­sue. There are 236 mem­bers of the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral As­sem­bly. I am de­lighted for us to have a de­bate and dis­cus­sion on that is­sue if any one of them wants to in­tro­duce that bill. That has not hap­pened yet.”

But what would such a bill look like?

The ‘big three’ ar­eas of pro­tec­tion

The strong­est nondis­crim­i­na­tion bill would in­clude pro­tec­tions in th­ese “big three” ar­eas—em­ploy­ment, hous­ing and public ac­com­mo­da­tions.

“Cer­tainly those are the three big ar­eas of con­cern when it comes to dis­crim­i­na­tion that need to be ad­dressed be­fore we would feel com­fort­able with pass­ing some sort of re­li­gious free­dom bill. That’s what we’re lack­ing here in Ge­or­gia is any men­tion of state level civil rights,” Gra­ham says. How- ever, he notes, “The leg­isla­tive ses­sion just ended a week ago, so we want to move for­ward thought­fully at this point in time.”

Gra­ham also pointed out that there are no pro­tected classes un­der state law, so an ef­fort of this mag­ni­tude would re­quire a broad coali­tion of com­mu­ni­ties to come to­gether to pass a bill that pro­tected all of them.

Rep. Wen­dell Wil­lard (R-Sandy Springs), chair­man of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, says he’s ready to talk about a statewide nondis­crim­i­na­tion bill that cov­ers one peg out of those “big three.”

“We do not have in Ge­or­gia what we call a public ac­com­mo­da­tions law, we have the fed­eral law,” he tells the Ge­or­gia Voice. “I think that would be some­thing we could ad­dress that might do that. That would be a high hur­dle to get over in one ses­sion but we could see.”

Fail­ure of Dren­ner’s bill doesn’t bode well for all-in­clu­sive bill

Rep. Karla Dren­ner (D-Avon­dale Es­tates) knows a thing or two—or three—about try­ing to pass a statewide nondis­crim­i­na­tion bill. She tried and failed to pass her Fair Em­ploy­ment Prac­tices Act (FEPA) for the third time in this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Dren­ner’s bill would have pro­hib­ited dis­crim­i­na­tion against state em­ploy­ees on the ba­sis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity. This year’s bill had the strong­est chance yet of pass­ing, with 77 co-spon­sors, in­clud­ing 19 Repub­li­cans.

She doesn’t buy the talk about an all-en­com­pass­ing statewide nondis­crim­i­na­tion bill. “I think that’s just a red her­ring,” she says. Wil­lard re­veals that FEPA, of which he was a co-spon­sor, nearly had an al­ter­na­tive route through the House.

“We con­sid­ered ty­ing that pro­vi­sion onto the re­li­gious free­dom bill,” he says. “It was only a pos­si­bil­ity if it got the chance for the bill to move out of the House com­mit­tee to the Rules Com­mit­tee. But we felt it didn’t have sup­port to get through.”

Be­skin, who placed a big tar­get on her back by vot­ing to pass that nondis­crim­i­na­tion amend­ment in McKoon’s re­li­gious free­dom bill, stands by her vote.

“I be­lieve that this is a very di­vi­sive is­sue and that many groups be­lieve that RFRA would have a dis­crim­i­na­tory ef­fect if not a dis­crim­i­na­tory pur­pose,” she says. “I be­lieve un­less we can come up with nondis­crim­ina-

“We play de­fense a lot and con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment in which we find our­selves, our de­fen­sive wins are our wins.”

—Rep. Karla Dren­ner

Ge­or­gia Equal­ity ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Jeff Gra­ham hopes that peo­ple put into per­spec­tive what oc­curred dur­ing this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

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