Last night, in a matter of mere hours, the worst of Georgia’s anti-LGBT bills (HB 757, Georgia’s License to Discriminate) passed out of General Assembly, going next to Governor Nathan Deal’s desk where a veto is the last line of defense.
In what is proving to be characteristic fashion for Georgia lawmakers, there was no advance notice that HB 757 would be called for a House vote. A benign version of the bill passed the House unanimously in February, but was amended heavily—and then passed hastily—by the Senate and sent back to its origin chamber.
Once back in the House, HB 757 was amended even further and the version that is advancing to the Governor’s desk is the most extreme anti-LGBT bill, yet.
Representatives were given one hour to review the legislation late yesterday afternoon. Another hour was tacked on to debate HB 757, which now includes sweeping religious exemptions that allow any individual to cite their faith beliefs as an excuse to ignore any law, past or present.
Ultimately, the House voted to advance the heinous anti-LGBT bill by 104-65, and the Senate approved it by a shameful majority up/down vote.
What Does HB 757 Actually Do?
In brief, it gives license to discriminate in employment and service provision (including educational services)—with absolutely no consequence.
To explain: The previous version of HB 757 (then called the First Amendment Defense Act) was problematic because it allowed discrimination against same-sex and unmarried couples on the basis of one’s religious beliefs around marriage.
The latest Franken-bill goes much further. Now, under HB 757, any person or faith-based organization (including non-profits, charities, schools and universities, and hospitals) can cite their “religious beliefs” as justification to ignore laws and discriminate against others in the provision of services.
There is an explicit carve out for religious organizations also allowing them to refuse employment to someone on religious grounds. This extends to taxpayer-funded organizations, meaning that a Jewish person could be discriminated against in hiring by an organization that that same person helps to fund through their taxes.
What’s more, these religious exemptions trump all other laws—including local non-discrimination ordinances like Atlanta’s, which has prohibited discrimination across 13 classes—including sexual orientation and gender identity—for years.
In other words, if Georgia’s License to Discriminate bill (HB 757) becomes law, there will be nowhere in the state of Atlanta where gay and transgender Georgians are safe and protected from unfair treatment and harm.
But wait—this bill doesn’t just leave LGBT Georgians vulnerable to discrimination. HB 757 is so broadly written it opens the floodgates of discrimination, and could leave countless in its wake.
For example, under this extreme License to Discriminate:
- An employer could fire a woman who remarried after a divorce;
- A homeless shelter could refuse to admit LGBT youth off the street;
- A pharmacist could refuse to provide a patient with HIV medication;
- A soup kitchen could turn away a single mother and her children;
- A counselor could be exempted from state licensing requirements; or
- A suicide hotline operator could deny help to someone in need of emergency counseling.
These are very real consequences that could negatively impact the lives of potentially hundreds of thousands of Georgians.
Freedom of religion is a deeply held American value that is well-protected by the First Amendments to the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions. No laws past or recent threaten to destabilize that freedom.
Conversely, LGBT Georgians among others have virtually no protections at the state level in housing, employment, public accommodations and other critical areas, like credit and lending.
The few localities where they have been protected, they will now be newly at risk if HB 757 passes.
Georgia’s License to Discriminate (HB 757) flies in the face of the 57% majority Georgians who oppose discriminatory religious exemptions, and the 66% supermajority who support LGBT non-discrimination laws. HB 757 bill explicitly sanctions discrimination on the basis of any religious belief, including discrimination with taxpayer dollars. This is by far the most draconian of discriminatory legislation proposed this year and it is poised to pass unless Governor Deal commits to veto.
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