Georgia Equality supporters gathered on the sunny lawn across from the Georgia Capitol midday Tuesday, April 5, to celebrate the veto of House Bill 757, as well as to address new goals.
H.B. 757 sought to legalize faith-based entities’ refusal of service and employment based on sincerely held religious beliefs — a measure that came in response to the legalization of same-sex marriage. The bill passed the General Assembly in March in spite of established First Amendment protections.
Gov. Nathan Deal’s announced veto of H.B. 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act, has led legislators to vow to try again in 2017.
The legislature for several years has been a battleground between advocates of LGBT rights and those, led by Christian conservatives, who insist religious freedom is threatened. Georgia rabbis across the denominations have opposed religious liberty legislation for potentially enabling discrimination; none has publicly supported such measures.
The April 5 rally’s theme was one of thanks: to voters, legislators and lobbyists — present or otherwise. Speakers acknowledged the recent Georgia victory while citing ongoing legislative battles in other states, such as North Carolina and Mississippi.
Among the featured speakers, Jewish leaders Mark Moskowitz, the Southeast regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rebecca Stapel-Wax, the executive director of SOJOURN, expressed relief at the veto of H.B. 757.
Stapel-Wax spoke of l’dor vador, or the responsibility from one generation to another, for our children and their children.
Moskowitz, sporting a brightly lettered “No Place for Hate” T-shirt, called for a push toward comprehensive anti-discrimination laws throughout the state.
Georgia employees are protected from discrimination on the federal level, but no analogous rights exist at state level. As a right-to-work state, Georgia allows private employers to fire employees without providing a rationale. Workers could be let go based on sexual orientation or religious beliefs.
The rally ended with calls to vote May 24 in the state and local primaries to continue the momentum into the next session.