LGBT activists delivered more than 75,000 emails to Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday, expressing their disgust with an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill that has sparked a national backlash.
The activists – led by Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality and Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign and Simone Bell of Lambda Legal – demanded that Deal and lawmakers kill the legislation. They carried the petitions – collected in 30 boxes – into the front of the State Capitol and stacked them in the offices of Deal as a show of force that tens of thousands of people opposed the legislation.
“Today we bring those 75,000 emails to the governor’s office so that he can see where the majority of Georgians stand on this issue,” said Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director. “I hope we can begin to reframe this debate from one about allowing discrimination to one about fighting discrimination against everyone, be they women, racial minorities, the LGBT community or people of faith.”
Griffin, HRC’s president, said the legislation would provide a license to discriminate against LGBT people, single parents and unmarried couples.
“We are here today to stand up together, unified, for fairness and equality,” Griffin said. “They are attempting to enshrine discrimination into state law. At its core, the dangerous so-called First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia would intentionally and explicitly create broad loopholes in state law in order to authorize taxpayer funded discrimination under the false premise of religious liberty.”
Bell, a former state lawmaker, called on legislators to reject the bill and instead pass LGBT-inclusive civil rights legislation. Georgia is just one of five states in the U.S. without a statewide civil rights law. She called the bill “both divisive and dangerous for all Georgians.”
“We urge our legislators to turn away from codifying discrimination in Georgia law and to take the lead to avoid perceptions of discrimination in Georgia,” Bell said. “We should pass laws that protect LGBT people from discrimination.”
The petitions come as Deal and House Speak David Ralston work to craft a way out from under the "religious freedom" bill. Since its Senate passage on Feb. 26, the measure has sparked a national backlash that continues to grow.
Deal issued a forceful statement on Monday warning lawmakers away from a bill that "will be perceived as allowing discrimination." Ralston followed, urging lawmakers "to work out something that we can feel good about as a state."
The current House Bill 757 took the largely innocuous Pastor Protection Act championed by Ralston and tacked on the anti-gay provisions of Sen. Greg Kirk's First Amendment Defense Act. The Senate's 38-14 approval of the hybrid bill returned it to the House for consideration.
The bill, despite the efforts of supporters to gloss over its provisions, would allow faith-based agencies and others to discriminate against LGBT people based on religious beliefs. Critics say it opens the door to discrimination and threatens LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies in place in companies and cities across the state.