The Business Community
On June 27, 2015, Georgia’s LGBT community awoke hoarse from screaming, wiped the sleep from their eyes, brushed a rainbow flag or two off their chests and made certain the previous day’s events weren’t a dream: it was true, marriage equality was the law of the land.
As the celebration continued for some, there were many both in and outside of the community that began preparing for the inevitable backlash. And oh, did it come.
State Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) came out of the gate fast by introducing two bills on Day Three of the 2016 legislative session – one that would allow business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples on religious grounds, and one that would ensure no faith leader would be forced to perform a same-sex wedding. Despite some initial concerns about overly broad language in that second bill, it was deemed fairly innocuous, with that version of the bill passing unanimously in the House – even garnering a yes vote from lesbian state Rep. Karla Drenner (D-Avondale Estates). The number assigned to that bill? House Bill 757.
Little did Drenner and others know what that bill would turn into just a few short days later on Feb. 16, when it was combined with state Sen. Greg Kirk’s (R-Americus) state version of the federal First Amendment Defense Act, creating a hybrid anti-LGBT bill met with immediate backlash locally and across the nation.
Here are the players that stepped up over the following 41 days to kill the bill.
LGBT and Progressive Groups and Activists
Statewide LGBT advocacy organization Georgia Equality was front and center on fighting the bill, helping organize press conferences and rallies and speaking at various committee and subcommittee hearings on the bill. But a number of organizations throughout the state took part in the fight alongside Georgia Equality, most under the umbrella of LGBT rights coalition Georgia Unites Against Discrimination.
December 23, 2016
A number of local and national LGBT groups signed onto a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal and leadership in the state Legislature urging them not to pass HB 757. The letter was signed by Georgia Equality, Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal, Equality Federation, American Unity Fund, Freedom For All Americans, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Center for Transgender Equality and National LGBTQ Task Force.
Several groups helped deliver 75,000 anti-HB 757 letters and emails to the governor’s office on March 2.
Other groups that joined in the fight included Better Georgia, Anti-Defamation League, ACLU, Georgia Republicans for the Future, GLAAD and the NAACP. And gay constitutional scholar Anthony Michael Kreis was a frequent presence in committee and subcommittee hearings speaking out against the bill.
Faith Leaders and Groups
Hundred of of faith leaders and faith groups spoke out in opposition to HB 757 throughout the session, disrupting any notions that the bill’s backers hoped people would have that all people of faith support the legislation.
Several faith leaders, including Rev. William Flippin of Emanuel Lutheran Church, Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah, Rev. Josh Noblitt of Saint Mark United Methodist Church and Pastor Molly McGinnis of Central Presbyterian Church held a press conference in the Central Presbyterian courtyard on March 8 calling on Gov. Deal to veto the bill, with Heller calling the bill a “disaster” in its current form and adding, “It makes our faith into a bludgeon to beat up other people.” And SOJOURN was in the middle of the conversation throughout.
Both the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and Georgia Chamber of Commerce came out before the session started voicing their support for a “religious freedom” bill only if it included anti-discrimination language protecting the LGBT community. And the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau published separate studies showing an economic hit in the billions if the Legislature adopted a bill without it – foreshadowing the business backlash to come once the hybrid HB 757 bill was revealed.
Another business group that ended up playing a huge role in the bill’s defeat was Georgia Prospers, a coalition of over 300 businesses across the country formed in January and headed up by former state Senate majority leader Ronnie Chance, a Republican.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was a major critic of the legislation, going on CNBC to rail against the bill (he scrapped his company’s