Georgia 'Religious Liberty' Debate Continues

By Aaron Gould Sheinin; Kristina Torres | Charleston Gazette Mail, March 22, 2016 | Go to article overview

Georgia 'Religious Liberty' Debate Continues


Aaron Gould Sheinin; Kristina Torres, Charleston Gazette Mail


ATLANTA - The swirl of attention surrounding the "religious liberty" bill Georgia lawmakers passed last week has shown no signs of abating, as advocates and opponents each seek to get their positions etched into Gov. Nathan Deal's memory. On Monday, the only three openly gay members of the Legislature appealed to Deal to veto the bill, saying they believe the state has already lost face over concerns the legislation would legalize discrimination statewide. Also Monday, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said lawmakers should leave the religious liberty debate to Congress.

Deal has not said whether he will sign the bill and has until May 3 to decide. His office said Monday that it had received thousands of emails and hundreds of telephone calls on both sides of the issue.

In an email to Republican lawmakers, a copy of which was obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, said: "For whatever reason, some of what has been said has included exaggerations or misinformation. This packet of information is being forwarded to all caucus members so you can have some trusted sources of information for further discussions with your constituents.

In an interview that will air today on Georgia Public Broadcasting's "The Lawmakers, Ralston said the bill is "free of discrimination.

But wide swaths of the state's business community have mobilized against the bill. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber have criticized HB 757, and leaders of major corporations, including Intel, PayPal and Yelp, have called on Deal to veto the measure. As the bill moved through the Legislature, more than 400 businesses, including Google, Hilton Worldwide and Synovus, opposed it. After it passed, more joined in, including the National Football League, which suggested HB 757 could jeopardize Atlanta's Super Bowl bid.

Despite Ralston's comments, opponents of the measure insist HB 757 would allow discrimination. For example, some have said nearly anyone involved in the wedding industry could refuse to provide services to a gay couple should the bill become law.

That's because the bill says no "individual could be forced to attend a same-sex wedding. Under that language, opponents said, a photographer, musician or florist, for example, could refuse to serve a gay couple. After all, a person can't photograph a wedding if he can't be forced to attend it.

Lindsey, a former House majority whip, pushed back on those claims. He told the AJC that it's "regrettable, but state law already allows a business to refuse to provide those services. HB 757 doesn't change that, he said.

The legislation says individuals would be free to attend or not attend "solemnization of any marriage, performance of any rite, or administration of any sacrament in the exercise of their rights to free exercise of religion.

It's wording that has raised questions about when Georgians are ever legally forced to attend a marriage. …

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