Gov. Nathan Deal announced today that he will veto a controversial “religious liberty” bill that supporters say would protect gay-marriage opponents from government reprisal but critics say would legalize discrimination against the LGBT community.
In addition to opposition from civil rights groups, many corporations had threatened to pull their business out of Georgia. Hollywood studios have said they’d stop filming movies and TV shows like Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and “The Walking Dead” here, and the bill put Atlanta’s bid for a Super Bowl at risk.
Deal said the bill goes too far. Here’s a statement from his office:
“HB 757 appeared in several forms during the 2016 legislative session,” said Deal. “I had no objection to the ‘Pastor Protection Act’ that was passed by the House of Representatives. The other versions of the bill, however, contained language that could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination. I did have problems with that and made my concerns known as did many other individuals and organizations, including some within the faith-based community.
“I appreciate the efforts of the General Assembly to address these concerns and my actions today in no way disparage their motivations on those who support this bill. Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it will allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment to the United State Constitution. If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by the man-made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.
“Some of those in the religious community who support this bill have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character. Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state. I do not respond well to insults or threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will made sound judgments based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion. That is what I intend to do. As I’ve said before, I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which my family and I have been a part of for all of our lives. My decision regarding HB 757 is not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business friendly climate for job growth in Georgia.
“This is about the character of our state and the character of its people. Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
The debate is not over. Already, the AJC reports that state senators are calling for a special session to override Deal’s veto. While that’s unlikely, proponents will surely try to pass another bill during next year’s session.
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