Georgia Governor vetoes religious exemptions bill
ATLANTA (AP) – Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has vetoed legislation allowing clergy to refuse performing gay marriage and protecting people who refuse to attend the ceremonies.
The Republican rejected the bill on Monday.
“I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect our faith based community in Georgia,” said Deal.
Republican majorities passed the bill to broadly protect people acting on their religion. It also would have protected clergy who won’t perform gay marriages and people who won’t attend a wedding for religious reasons.
Churches and affiliated religious groups also could have declined to serve or hire someone based on their faith.
“These include solemnizing a marriage, attending a marriage, hiring church personnel or renting church property,” explained Deal.
The bill’s opponents said it excused discrimination and could trample local ordinances protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Coca-Cola and other big-name Georgia companies joined the NFL, prominent Hollywood figures and film studios urging Deal to reject the proposal. Some threatened to boycott the state if Deal didn’t veto.
Republican Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia provided a history lesson as he explained his decision to veto a “religious freedom” bill enumerating actions that “people of faith” would not have to perform for others. Here is an excerpt from his remarks:
“My actions today in no way disparage the motivations of those who support this bill. Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it will allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate on something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment of the United State Constitution.
That may be why our Founding Fathers did not attempt to list in detail the circumstances that religious liberty embraced. Instead, they adopted what the late Supreme Court Justice Scalia referred to as ‘negative protection.’ That is, rather than telling government what it can do regarding religion, they told government what it could not do, namely, ‘establish a religion or interfere with the free exercise thereof.’
They had previously proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that Man’s Creator had endowed all men ‘with certain unalienable rights,’ including ‘Liberty,’ which embraces religious liberty. They made it clear that those liberties were given by God and not by man’s government. Therefore, it was unnecessary to enumerate in statute or constitution what those liberties included.
In light of our history, I find it ironic that today some in the religious community feel it necessary to ask government to confer upon them certain rights and protections. If indeed our religious liberty is conferred by God and not by man made government, we should heed the ‘hands-off’ admonition of the First Amendment to our Constitution. When legislative bodies attempt to do otherwise, the inclusions and omissions in their statutes can lead to discrimination, even though it may be unintentional. That is too great a risk to take.”
Senator Mike Crane is calling for a special session to override Deal’s decision. Georgia’s constitution says there can be a special session under two conditions: if the governor calls for one or if three-fifths of the members of both the House and the Senate write to the governor asking for one.
State Representative Allen Peake wrote on Twitter “I, for one, will not be calling for or support coming back for a special session.”
Senator Greg Kirk wrote on Facebook “I respectfully disagree with Governor Deal’s decision. The Free Exercise Protection Act was a deliberately drawn piece of legislation that did not discriminate against the LGBT and protected the faith community. In my opinion he gave into bullies!”
State Representative Nikki Randall applauded Deal’s decision saying “by making freedom of speech with discriminatory actions against tax paying citizens, HB 757 would have set back our state while putting all Georgians in danger. We deserve better than that.”