As Gov. Nathan Deal ponders the “religious liberty” bill that the General Assembly has adopted, he can look to recent examples of how two other Republican governors handled this particular issue.
The example cited most often in media accounts is Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. Last year, the Indiana legislature passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was similar to what Georgia’s lawmakers have adopted this year. Critics of the bill said it would lead to widespread discrimination against the LGBT community and damage Indiana’s business image, but Pence signed the bill anyway.
Reaction to the new law was immediate, widespread, and intense. Several organizations withdrew events from the state, Angie’s List canceled a $40 million expansion of its headquarters, and business boycotts were threatened. The state was pilloried in the national media, with the Indianapolis Star running a front page editorial under the headline “Fix This Now,” demanding that the new law be amended.
Indiana lawmakers quickly passed a separate bill to provide protections for LGBT customers, employees and tenants, and Pence signed the legislation one week after he signed the original bill.
Deal can also consider the example of Jan Brewer, the Republican governor of Arizona from 2009–2015. Brewer is as staunch a conservative as you’ll find. While she served as governor of Arizona, she signed the state’s controversial immigration law, called “Papers, please,” that served as a model for the anti-immigration bill signed by Deal in 2011.
In 2014, the Arizona legislature passed a religious freedom bill called Senate Bill 1062 that was similar in its provisions to the bill Pence would sign a year later in Indiana. Senate Bill 1062 went to Brewer’s desk for her signature but, unlike Pence, Brewer vetoed it. Brewer said she worried that the bill, if it became law, “could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans.” Brewer’s veto of the bill enabled Arizona to avoid the political quagmire that Pence would step into a year later in Indiana. There were no economic boycotts and businesses did not flee the state.
Here’s the situation for Georgia now that the religion bill is in a position to become law. The National Football League has already warned that enactment of the law could take Atlanta out of consideration as a future site for the Super Bowl. The city could also lose NCAA basketball tournaments and other events that would be held in the domed stadium that is being built for Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank. Atlanta has already committed $400 million in tax funds to build and maintain that stadium. The state is spending another $40 million in public money on a parking deck for the facility. Will all that tax money go down the drain because some legislators don’t like gays?
Deal can follow the example of Brewer or he can do what Pence did when he takes final action on the “religious liberty” bill. The choice is his.
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