Gov. Nathan Deal ve­toes anti-gay ‘re­li­gious free­dom’ bill

GA Voice - - Georgianews -

Gov. Nathan Deal ended 12 very long, of­ten tu­mul­tuous days of spec­u­la­tion and on March 28 an­nounced that he is ve­to­ing House Bill 757, the con­tro­ver­sial anti-LGBT so-called “re­li­gious free­dom” bill that has roiled the state and caused a na­tional back­lash.

The bill would have al­lowed faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tions (in­clud­ing churches, re­li­gious schools or as­so­ci­a­tions) to deny peo­ple the rental or any us­age of its fa­cil­i­ties for events it finds “ob­jec­tion­able.” Also these faith­based or­ga­ni­za­tions would have not been re­quired to pro­vide so­cial, ed­u­ca­tional or char­i­ta­ble ser­vices “that vi­o­late such faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sin­cerely held re­li­gious be­lief.” And they would have been al­lowed to deny em­ploy­ment and fire those whose “re­li­gious be­liefs or prac­tices or lack of ei­ther are not in ac­cord with the faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sin­cerely held re­li­gious be­lief.”

Also, the re­vised bill in­cluded much of the lan­guage of the fed­eral Re­li­gious Free­dom Restora­tion Act of 1993, which re­quires gov­ern­ment to prove a “com­pelling gov­ern­men­tal in­ter­est” be­fore it in­ter­feres with a per­son’s ex­er­cise of re­li­gion. There was a pro­vi­sion added that said it can­not be used to al­low “dis­crim­i­na­tion on any grounds pro­hib­ited by fed­eral or state law” but there are no fed­eral or state laws that ex­pressly pro­tect Ge­or­gia’s LGBT com­mu­nity against dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The bill drew in­stant back­lash af­ter the new ver­sion hit Gov. Deal’s desk on March 16, with LGBT groups and the busi­ness com­mu­nity speak­ing out most force­fully against it. Nearly the en­tire film and tele­vi­sion in­dus­try came out against it in the days lead­ing up to the veto, threat­en­ing to boy­cott and sig­nif­i­cantly dam­age what has be­come over a bil­lion dol­lar an­nual boost to the state’s econ­omy.

April 1, 2016

Deal’s an­nounce­ment about the veto drew praise from far and wide, in­clud­ing many Demo­cratic law­mak­ers un­ac­cus­tomed to do­ing so. But con­ser­va­tive faith lead­ers lashed out and Repub­li­can law­mak­ers sig­naled their in­ten­tions to call a spe­cial ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture to over­ride the gover­nor’s veto.

Deal: Bill could lead to ‘state-sanc­tioned dis­crim­i­na­tion’

Dur­ing the March 28 press con­fer­ence, Deal stated that he was not swayed by the ex­am­ples of sup­posed re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion hap­pen­ing in other states that pro­po­nents of the bill cited in sup­port of HB 757. Point­ing out the ex­am­ple of a bak­ery in Colorado that re­fused to sell a same-sex cou­ple a wed­ding cake and were then sued, Deal men­tioned that that case was dif­fer­ent be­cause Colorado had adopted a pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions law. Ge­or­gia has no such statute—a point LGBT ac­tivists have been mak­ing through­out the de­bate, and pos­si­bly a sig­nal from the gover­nor of what would be needed if any such “re­li­gious free­dom” bill were to pass in the fu­ture.

The gover­nor also stated that he had no is­sues with the Pas­tor Pro­tec­tion Act, the ver­sion of HB 757 that passed the House unan­i­mously be­fore hav­ing the anti-LGBT lan­guage of the First Amend­ment De­fense Act in­serted in.

“The other ver­sions of the bill, how­ever, con­tained lan­guage that could give rise to state-sanc­tioned dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he said Mon­day.

Deal also made a point that op­po­nents of the bill have been mak­ing through­out the de­bate, say­ing the en­tire situation “il­lus­trates how dif­fi­cult it is to leg­is­late on some­thing that is best left to the broad pro­tec­tions of the First Amend­ment of our U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.”

He sin­gled out both those in the re­li­gious com­mu­nity who have ques­tioned his faith and those in the busi­ness com­mu­nity who threat­ened to with­draw jobs from the state if the bill were signed into law, say­ing, “The peo­ple of Ge­or­gia de­serve a leader who will make sound judg­ments based on solid rea­sons that are not in­flamed by emo­tion.”

The gover­nor ended the press con­fer­ence by talk­ing about dis­crim­i­na­tion and the char­ac­ter of the state of Ge­or­gia.

“I do not think we have to dis­crim­i­nate against any­one to pro­tect the faith-based com­mu­nity in Ge­or­gia, of which my fam­ily and I are a part of for all of our lives,” he said, adding, “Ge­or­gia is a wel­com­ing state filled with warm, friendly and lov­ing peo­ple. I be­lieve that is our best side.”

“I in­tend to do my part to keep it that way. For that rea­son I will veto House Bill 757.”

Repub­li­can law­mak­ers want spe­cial ses­sion

Re­ac­tion to Gov. Deal’s veto im­me­di­ately poured in from across the state and the coun­try, in­clud­ing LGBT groups like Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, Ge­or­gia Unites Against Dis­crim­i­na­tion, Lambda Le­gal, Free­dom For All Amer­i­cans, SO­JOURN and the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign. Pro­gres­sive faith lead­ers and the busi­ness com­mu­nity were among the oth­ers prais­ing the an­nounce­ment.

But it was the strong and wide­spread re­ac­tion from state Demo­cratic law­mak­ers that stood out most, with House Mi­nor­ity Leader Stacey Abrams, Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Vin­cent Fort, les­bian Rep. Karla Dren­ner (D-Avon­dale Es­tates), Rep. Tay­lor Ben­nett (D-Brookhaven), les­bian Rep. Keisha Waites (D-At­lanta), queer Rep. Park Can­non (D-At­lanta), Rep. Stacy Evans (D-Smyrna), Rep. Nikki Ran­dall (D-Ma­con) and Sen. Elena Par­ent (D-At­lanta) among those who gave a thumbs up to the gover­nor.

But state Sen. Mike Crane (R-New­nan) al­most im­me­di­ately called for a spe­cial ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture to over­ride Gov. Deal’s veto, say­ing, “The an­nounce­ment by Gov. Deal is an­other ex­am­ple of how the po­lit­i­cal class is bought and paid for by cor­po­ra­tions and lob­by­ists,” and adding, “This fight is not over.” Ge­or­gia law states that it takes a three-fifths ma­jor­ity in both the House and the Se­nate to con­vene a spe­cial ses­sion.

By PATRICK SAUNDERS

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