The battlefield is widening in the fight to protect LGBT Georgians from state-sanctioned discrimination in 2016.
In addition to the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA bill SB 129) which was shelved in House Committee last year but remains live, extreme lawmakers have since introduced six other “religious freedom” bills designed to give people the right to claim religious exemption from laws in order to justify discrimination against gay and transgender people.
Read on for a more in depth look at anti-LGBT legislation to keep and eye on as this ideological war wages against gay and transgender Georgians. You can click here to send a message to your legislators and let them know you oppose any and all legislation that would permit LGBT discrimination in the name of religion.
RFRA (SB 129)
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 129) was introduced last year by Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) and contains broad language that would allow any individual or businesses to ignore state and local laws and grant “license to discriminate” in the name of religion. Legal experts have said this bill could give incentive for discrimination, specifically against gay and transgender Georgians.
This bill was slated to become law, but stalled out after Indiana passed similar legislation to national backlash from the business and tech communities, major entertainers, the sports industry, and state governors—to name a few.
Georgia’s RFRA passed the Senate with a majority vote. Now it sits in House Committee. Several moderate Republican House members have publicly denounced the legislation saying they hope it never comes to a vote. This could have something to do with the billions of dollars in projected losses, according to two polls commissioned by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.
RFRA (HB 837)
Rep. Ed Setzler (R – Acworth) introduced this bill as an alternative to Sen. McKoon’s SB 129. It states, simply, that the federal RFRA would become state law.
Interestingly, Sen. McKoon has long insisted that SB 129 is modeled after the federal RFRAin his efforts to appeal to moderate-conservatives. Apparently, the federal bill is different enough from his own RFRA iteration that Rep. Setzler felt the need to introduce a nearer replica, calling into question Sen. McKoon’s transparency about what his version of RFRA would and would not allow if passed into law.
What remains unclear is why, if a federal RFRA is in place, Georgia lawmakers feel the need to reinforce it at the state level. Last checked, federal law applies universally to the states.
Preventing Government Overreach on Religious Expression (HB 218)
This is Rep. Sam Teasley’s (R – Marietta) House version of SB 129, introduced in 2015. Teasley has said he won’t move this bill, but it’s nevertheless still alive and could be called for a committee hearing.
Anyway, now Georgia can boast THREE RFRA bills live and under consideration. This could be a national record—the record for Highest Count of Identical Discriminatory Bills. Bravo, we deserve an award.
Discrimination Defense Act (HB 756)
This bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), dropped on Wednesday January 13th and would allow individuals and businesses across the state to refuse service to same-sex couples.
Legislation like this is widely viewed as reaction to the Supreme Court decision last June, legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. In a statement released today, our own Jeff Graham highlights business support for non-discrimination protections for gay and transgender people:
[This legislation] simply doesn’t represent the needs of small business owners or our values here in Georgia. Just last week, more than 100 businesses from across Georgia came together to promote non-discrimination. HB 756 singles out same-sex couples for harm, and that’s wrong.
First Amendment Defense Act (SB 284)
Also known as FADA, this legislation was introduced by Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) on Wednesday January 20th, despite vocal opposition from Republican leadership including Sen. President pro tem David Shafer (R-Duluth).
FADA would allow individuals or businesses who believe that “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage” to claim exemption from having to provide services to couples whose relationship falls outside of that model. This bill goes even further, and allows organizations who prescribe to these beliefs to receive government funding while exercising their right to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families.
UPDATE 2/1: Today, FADA received it’s first hearing. At the same time, civil rights leaders from around the country were convening in Atlanta to release a report that shows religious exemptions legislation has long been used to justify discrimination against marginalized communities. The FADA hearing—which was unannounced until the morning of—had concluded before opening remarks at the civil rights report release were finished.
Pastor Protection Act (HB 757)
Another bill, also proposed by Rep. Tanner (R-Dawsonville), and also introduced Wednesday January 13th reads: “religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion.”
It’s worth noting that it is already illegal for the state to compel religious officials to perform marriage ceremonies—for same-sex couples or anyone else.
UPDATE 1/15: House Speaker David Ralston has said that he will give priority to this bill over other religious exemption legislation currently under consideration.
Student Religious Freedom Act (HB 816)
This bill, a brainchild of Rep. Billy Mitchell (D – Stone Mountain), reiterates into state law the legal precedent that student led prayer is acceptable.
While less troubling than some of the sweeping religious exemptions laws listed above, this bill could be amended to include broader language if brought up for a hearing.
Georgia State Constitutional Amendment to Fund Religious (SR 388)
This Constitutional Amendment, introduced by Sen. Bill Heath (R- Bremen), would put up for public vote a change to the state constitution to allow for direct government funding to religious organizations.
Currently, the Georgia Constitution does not allow for public funding of religious groups—per one of the founding values of our nation: Separation of Church and State.
Last updated on Tuesday, February 2nd at 1:04PM.SHARE THIS STORY