When conservative lawmakers in Indiana and Arkansas last year promoted "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" (RFRA) legislation designed to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination, a similar bill was considered in Georgia. Now that proposed measure is set to return among these Southerners legislators, along with another pro-discrimination bill.
SB 129, introduced by self-proclaimed "defender of religious freedom" Sen. Josh McKoon (R), would prohibit the government from "burdening an individual's religious beliefs," similar to the federal RFRA that was expanded by the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, reports Think Progress.
Protection within this bill could be used to circumvent local state laws that prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. A common example used for this type of protection references a wedding vendor, who wants to refuse to serve a same-sex couple, claiming that doing so burdens individual religious liberty.
Concerned Women for America wholeheartedly supported the bill, indicating it would provide religious liberty protections for people of all faiths living in Georgia.
SB 129 passed the Senate last year, but only after it was forced through committee while Democrats were in the bathroom, reports Zach Ford.
The bill then stalled out in the House Judiciary Committee, where lawmakers attempted to amend it to ensure it could not be used to discriminate. Though McKoon and the bill's other supporters claimed all along it would not enable discrimination, they insisted such an amendment "would completely undercut the purpose of the bill." Committee members approved the amendment and tabled the bill, where it currently resides.
Several prominent Georgia-based businesses spoke out against SB 129 bill during last year's session, including The Home Depot, the Atlanta Hawks, MailChimp, and the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. They argue it would jeopardize the state's business climate by prompting boycotts of metro Atlanta's convention facilities. A Super Bowl could be at stake, they have warned.
A group of 200-plus faith leaders spoke out just before the holidays about the Senate Bill's return this month, calling it a "vague and broad religious exemptions bill that could result in discrimination and have many unintended consequences." This move suggests that McKoon's bill is less about religious liberty and more about discrimination.
Sen. Greg Kirk (R), a former Southern Baptist pastor, during 2016 is planning to introduce a companion bill similarly intended to enable discrimination. He reportedly mirrored its language after the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) introduced in Congress, which prohibits government from taking any negative action against an individual or organization that refused to recognize a same-sex marriage.
ACLU representatives called it "a Pandora's Box of taxpayer-funded discrimination against same-sex couples and their children."
Kirk's bill would overtly extend specific protections to Georgians, including public employees, who maintain marriage can only occur between a man and a woman - and act accordingly, reports AJC.
Irene Munn, policy aide for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, said, "Any legislation seeking to protect First Amendment freedoms deserves careful consideration and thoughtful debate. The lieutenant governor will work, in his role as presiding officer, to ensure that occurs."
Recently, Georgia Chamber and the Metro Atlanta Chamber leaders have been more vocal about concerns over such laws, pointing to downturns suffered in Indiana last year after a similar bill was approved.
The new legislative session starts Jan. 11.