Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), responding to mounting pressure from corporations threatening to stop conducting business in the state, said Monday that he will veto a so-called religious liberties bill that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people.
Republican lawmakers have vowed to override the governor’s veto.
HB 757, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), would create broad protections for people or organizations who have “sincerely held religious beliefs” from being forced to participate in activities that they find “objectionable.”
For instance, clergy who refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples and people who refuse to attend a wedding for religious reasons would be protected by the proposed law, even though there is no law requiring either action.
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Adoption and foster care agencies funded with tax dollars could legally refuse to place children in the homes of same-sex couples under the “religious liberties” legislation.
Churches and other religious groups would be protected from refusing to serve or hire people on the grounds that their religious beliefs would be violated. People could claim their religious freedom is burdened by state or local laws, and force governments to prove there’s a “compelling” state interest to override their beliefs.
Republicans hold a 118-61 majority in the house and a 39-17 majority in the state senate.
Deal said in a statement that language in the bill could give rise to “state-sanctioned discrimination,” and cited changes made to the bill in the state senate.
“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,” Deal said. “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.”
Deal said that he supported the bill’s original incarnation in the house, but that he took issue with the version passed by the state senate and eventually ratified by the house.
Companies including Disney, Apple, Time Warner, Intel, and Salesforce called on Deal to veto the bill. State business organizations, including the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, also publicly opposed the bill.
Walt Disney Co. officials announced that they would halt production of films and television programs in the state if Deal signed the Republican bill.
AMC Networks, whose megahit The Walking Dead is filmed mainly in Georgia, has been publicly critical of the bill. “As a company, AMC Networks believes that discrimination of any kind is reprehensible,” the company said in a statement, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Time Warner came out against the so-called religious freedom measure. “Georgia bill HB 757 is in contradiction to this campaign, to the values we hold dear, and to the type of workplace we guarantee to our employees,” the company said in a statement.
The influence of business interests opposed to the legislation appeared to color the governor’s remarks upon vetoing the bill.
“Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion to which we adhere,” Deal said. “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.”
State Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newman) called on lawmakers to override the governor’s veto, and said Deal’s decision is an example of “how the political class is bought and paid for by corporations and lobbyists,” reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“Rather than standing up and protecting the 1st Amendment, the political class would rather sacrifice those rights to keep the money flowing,” Crane said.
There are hurdles legislators must overcome in order to override Deal’s veto.
The legislature has adjourned for the year. Without the governor calling for a special session, lawmakers would need a vote of three-fifths of the members of both chambers to certify to the governor in writing that an emergency exists requiring a special session. The house would need the support of at least 108 members and the state senate would need the support of at least 34 members in order to secure a special session.
An even larger majority would be required to override the governor’s veto. A vote of at least two-thirds of members of each legislative chamber would be required for an override.
State Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is confident GOP lawmakers can upend Deal’s veto. “We will call for a veto session,” Heath said. “And we have the votes.”