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