Georgia governor to veto ‘religious liberty’ bill

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Under increasing pressure from major corporations that do business in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Monday he will veto a bill that critics say would have curtailed the rights of Georgia's LGBT community.

ATLANTA — Under increasing pressure from major corporations that do business in Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Monday he will veto a bill that critics say would have curtailed the rights of Georgia’s LGBT community.

House Bill 757 would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Supporters said the measure was meant to protect religious freedom, while opponents have described it as “anti-LGBT” and “appalling.”

Speaking to reporters Monday morning, Deal said he didn’t think the bill was necessary.

“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives,” he said.

He said he was not reacting to pressure from the faith-based community or responding to the business community, which warned Georgia could lose jobs if he signed the bill.

His decision, he said, was “about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people. … I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason I will veto House Bill 757.”

Georgia legislator seeks to override veto

A Georgia legislator who supported the bill, state Sen. Mike Crane, quickly called for a special session to override Deal’s veto.

“Today, we saw exactly why our government needs committed conservatives who never stop fighting to protect the Constitution,” he said in a statement. “The announcement by Governor Deal is another example of how the political class is bought and paid for by corporations and lobbyists. Rather than standing up and protecting the First Amendment, the political class would rather sacrifice those rights to keep the money flowing.”

Deal mentioned the First Amendment in his statement, saying he found it ironic that some people acknowledge that God grants the freedoms enumerated in the First Amendment but want the government to enact laws to secure those rights.

“Perhaps we should heed the hands-off admonition of the First Amendment,” he said.

Deal, a Republican, announced his intended veto of the bill a few weeks after it passed both chambers of the Republican-dominated Georgia Legislature.

The measure had drawn outcries from major players in the business, tech and entertainment industries.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said the company “can’t have a program in Georgia” if the bill were to become law. Disney said it would stop filming in the state, and Unilever said it would “reconsider investment” if the legislation were signed.

The NFL said the bill could cost Atlanta the opportunity to host the Super Bowl.

More than a dozen states have approved similar laws in the past year.

Transgender man praises Deal

A transgender man living in Decatur, Georgia, said it was “truly amazing” to hear Deal’s reason for vetoing the bill.

“It was clear that he not only listened to the opinions of constituents, but that he really took to heart the personal stories that were brought to his doorstep,” said James Parker Sheffield, 36. “As a lifelong resident of Georgia, I hoped for the veto, but never expected the heart that was put into the governor’s statement.”

Groups working to protect LGBT rights praised Deal’s decision.

“HB 757, like so many similar bills, gambled Georgia’s economy, reputation and the livelihood of so many of its residents — all for the sake of advancing discrimination,” said Matt McTighe, executive director for Freedom for All Americans. “We thank Gov. Deal for doing the right thing. The governor understands that while our freedom of religion is of critical importance, it doesn’t mean there’s a need for harmful exemptions that can lead to discrimination.”

Lawsuit in North Carolina

Also on Monday, a federal lawsuit was filed against the North Carolina governor and other state officials over a new law there that blocks transgender individuals from using public bathrooms that match their gender identity and stops cities from passing anti-discrimination ordinances to protect gay and transgender people.

Two transgender men, a lesbian, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina want a judge to declare the state law, House Bill 2, unconstitutional and a violation of federal laws banning sex discrimination.

The suit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The defendants are Gov. Pat McCrory, state Attorney General Roy Cooper III, the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina and board Chairman W. Louis Bissette Jr. Two of the plaintiffs are university system employees, and one is a university student.

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