Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement Monday, March 28, that he will veto House Bill 757 was news worth celebrating, but it also was a compromise that ultimately may prove difficult for some on the winning side to accept.
As we argued in this space a week ago, H.B. 757 is an inherently discriminatory measure in search of a purpose. Its supporters say it’s necessary to protect followers of the unchallenged majority religion from being forced to violate principles of their faith, but they offer no examples of such oppression in Georgia.
Even if one accepts that forcing a wedding vendor to sell his service or product to a same-sex couple violates religious freedom — and we’re not clear how the legal case here is any different from similar arguments half a century ago against mixed-race marriage — the simple fact is that it hasn’t happened in Georgia. As Deal explained in his veto statement, the horror stories cited as justification for religious liberty legislation not only come from out of state, but also involve state laws that Georgia lacks.
Deal was right to argue that the risk of creating discrimination by trying to go beyond the First Amendment in delineating religious rights is usually far too great when there’s a cause for action; it’s unconscionable when there’s no need.
It was important in vetoing this legislation that Deal addressed and, for anyone willing to listen, put to rest the fears of the faithful regarding this new era of marriage equality. Whatever might be happening in other states, Georgia has neither the plans nor the mechanism to force anyone to bake a cake, supply flowers or take photographs at a same-sex wedding.
That point of emphasis in Deal’s statement — that Georgia lacks the Human Rights Act used against a New Mexico photographer and the Public Accommodation Act applied against a Colorado bakery — reveals the compromise he has struck.
As governor, he will protect the LGBT community, single parents, divorced people, religious minorities and others from discriminatory legislation, but the price is to accept Georgia as it is: a state with no civil rights law, no public accommodation law and no hate crimes law.
So those who fought desperately and successfully to stop H.B. 757 shouldn’t be surprised next year when the governor stands against new LGBT protections while continuing to oppose discriminatory religious liberty measures.
Loss for BDS
We did not want the General Assembly session to fade into history without complimenting its passage of legislation rejecting the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Georgia.
Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta), who has repeatedly proved himself to be a strong friend of Israel, shepherded through Senate Bill 327, which simply says that if you want a state contract worth at least $1,000, you have to declare that you do not boycott Israel or territory it controls and will not do so during the contract.
We’re disappointed the House removed language that would have applied the same rule to local governments in Georgia, and we’re unpleasantly surprised 70 representatives and eight senators voted against even that weakened measure. But we’re confident Gov. Deal will sign this bill and re-enforce Georgia’s strong belief in doing business with Israel.