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By KATHLEEN FOODY
ATLANTA (AP) – A powerful Georgia Senate committee discussed but took no action Monday on a contentious bill allowing religious adoption agencies, schools, government workers and others to refuse services to same-sex couples without being penalized.
The Senate Rules committee discussed the proposal from state Sen. Greg Kirk, a Republican from Americus, for less than 15 minutes. Republicans, who hold majorities on the committee and in the full Senate, asked few questions.
The Rules committee decides which bills receive a full Senate vote. State Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, chairs the committee and gave no indication Monday of plans for future hearings.
Monday’s hearing marked the first discussion of at least eight religious-exemption measures proposed by Georgia lawmakers this year during the first legislative session since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Gay-rights supporters call the measures discriminatory to same-sex couples, and the state’s business community also has warned that some of the bills could harm Georgia’s reputation and economy.
Supporters argue that people whose religious beliefs do not include gay marriage deserve legal protection when applying for a government job or when seeking charitable tax-exempt status or pursuing a government contract.
“It protects people who still hold the traditional view of marriage being between a man and a woman,” Kirk said.
He said the bill would not allow public employees to avoid performing their jobs, including clerks who issue marriage licenses.
Senate Minority Leader Steve Henson, a Democrat, questioned the bill’s impact on the state’s economy and warned it could be considered discriminatory.
Jeff Graham, executive director of the gay-rights group Georgia Equality, said the organization heard about the hearing about a half-hour before it began and called supporters of the measures “shrewd.”
“This is how they feel they need to operate here in Georgia,” Graham said later Monday at an event hosted by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights’ LGBT Institute to discuss the bill and other religious-exemption proposals.
Cathy Woolard, Georgia Equality’s lobbyist, was the only person who requested time to testify before the Senate committee. Woolard said the bill could be unconstitutional because it only protects one viewpoint: that marriage is between a man and a woman. It also would affect local anti-discrimination laws and allow organizations receiving federal or state tax dollars to avoid non-discrimination rules, she said.SHARE THIS STORY