State-sanctioned discrimination is legal, according to the Georgia state Senate’s religious freedom bill. The Georgia State Senate passed the GOP-backed legislation on February 19 by a 38-14 margin along party lines. Should the bill get the go-ahead from the Republican-led house, and wind up on the desk of Governor Nathan Deal, his approval could pave the way for legislation that has been heavily criticized for violating the equal protections clause of the Constitution.
But the bill’s future is not certain. Responding to pressures from the business community, the governor expressed reservations about the bill: “We’re working with the leadership of the General Assembly now as that bill is continuing to move through the process,” he said. “So we’ll see. I don’t comment until things are finalized, and, by far, it’s not finalized yet.” According to Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston, the bill was expected—but did not come to the House—by February 22. But Ralston can choose to call for a vote (or no vote) at any time during the session, which is scheduled to end March 24.
In a decision which troubled many, the bill was allowed to pass without any amendments. Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) was the most vocal critic. “Disabuse yourselves of any notion that this has been vetted and that the input has been made and has been weighted and considered,” she said. She then pointed out the bill’s potentially negative and discriminatory effects on the LGBT community. “Untold numbers of gay, lesbian and transgender people are holding their breath in fear that we will pass this legislation. It says to them you’re vulnerable, you’re on your own.”
Many business leaders have expressed concern over the bill, fearing negative publicity, widespread boycotts and billions of dollars in lost revenue. A number of major Georgia-based businesses—Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Arby’s among them—have joined the Georgia Prospers coalition in response to the bill. Members of the coalition pledge to
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