The controversy continues over Georgia’s so called “religious liberty” bill.
House Bill 757 would allow faith-based organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief.” Under the bill, clergy could refuse to perform gay marriages, and opponents of same-sex marriage would be allowed to deny services to gay and lesbian couples. It would also preserve the right of organizations to fire employees who disagree with their religious values.
The legislation was presented on March 16 and passed both Republican-controlled chambers within hours, only to be vetoed by Governor Nathan Deal. Now some lawmakers are calling for a special session to try to override the governor's veto.
Supporters of the bill say it would offer minimal legal protections to Georgia citizens who are already confronting anti-Christian bigotry and discrimination. A majority of Georgians oppose gay marriage, but, in a press conference, Governor Deal said he didn’t believe the bill reflected Georgia’s standing as a state full of “warm, friendly and loving people.”
There was significant pressure on Deal to reject the controversial measure, and critics say he caved to it.
Executives from dozens of companies, including Disney, Apple, Time Warner, Intel and Salesforce, called on the governor to veto the bill. Hollywood film companies suggested they might abandon Georgia if Deal signed the measure. The NFL warned that the legislation could risk Atlanta’s bid for the Super Bowl and the NCAA indicated that it could influence the state’s ability to host championship games.
Deal’s office confirms that they have received thousands of emails and hundreds of calls about the bill, landing on both sides of the debate.
Deal is weathering the controversy from a unique perspective. The two-term Republican is a term-limited governor with no further political ambitions. His term ends in January 2019.
It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will have the votes they need to overturn his veto, or, whether they will even attempt it. House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Governor Casey Cagle have said the will not push to overturn the governor’s veto this year, but will unite behind a new version of the bill next year.
Meanwhile, the debate over religious liberty vs. gay rights is simmering in other parts of the country as well. In North Carolina, lawmakers just passed a bill that prevents cities from passing non-discrimination ordinances protecting gay and lesbian residents. And, a coalition of civil rights groups has sued North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory after he signed a law that blocked the city of Charlotte’s attempt to extend LGBT protections.
In Mississippi, the Senate has passed a religious freedom bill called the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience From Government Discrimination Act.” The legislation says that businesses, social workers and public employees can’t be punished for denying services based on belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The bill also protects those who believe that gender is determined at birth. Under the measure, the government would not be allowed to prevent organizations from refusing to marry same-sex couples, blocking adoptions due to religious beliefs, or from firing employees whose “conduct or religious beliefs are inconsistent with those of the religious organization.”
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