Gov. Nathan Deal said he will veto an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill that has sparked a national controversy and provoked threats of a boycott of Georgia from the entertainment industry, tourism officials and scores of leading businesses. 

Deal said House Bill 757 strikes against the character of the state and would allow discrimination.

“Our actions on House Bill 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing business friendly climate for job growth in Georgia,” Deal said in a nearly nine-minute statement made from his State Capitol office on Monday.

“I believe it is 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. And that is what we should want. They choose to worship God in the way they see fit in a myriad of ways in a variety of different settings. I believe that is our best side. And our people every day work side-by-side without regard to the color of their skin of their fellow mate or the religion that their co-worker might adhere to. They are simply trying to make life better for themselves, their families and their communities,” he said.

“That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason, I will veto House Bill 757,” Deal added.

Deal, who warned lawmaker away from passing legislation that allowed discrimination, said Monday that this bill stepped over that line.

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

Deal also took a parting shot at religious activists who have questioned his faith and businesses who have threatened to leave the state.

“They should know I do not respond very well to insults or threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will make sound judgments based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion. And that is what I intend and have tried to do,” Deal said. 

Deal did not take any questions from the scrum of media present for his statement.

House Bill 757 passed on March 16 after Senate Republicans hijacked the Pastor Protection Act and added anti-gay provisions from the First Amendment Defense Act and a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The new measure was renamed the Free Exercise Protection Act and immediately drew scorn from LGBT and progressive activists, the entertainment industry, leading businesses and convention officials who worried it would cost Atlanta some $6 billion in business. 

On Thursday, supporters of the legislation tried to hijack another bill to retaliate against business that opposed House Bill 757. That effort failed, though at least one Republican promised an effort to overturn a veto if Deal rejected the bill.

Jeff Graham, Georgia Equality’s executive director, said Deal’s veto was a victory but but also pointed out that the state does not have a civil rights law or employment protections that include LGBT people.

“I am so pleased that the governor decided to take the prudent course of action and veto House Bill 757,” Graham said. “We have strong Frist Amendment protections that already guard people of faith and their practice of religion. House Bill 757 was a bill that if it had been enacted fully into law would really have wrecked havoc on our economy.”

“Clearly the governor listened to the hundreds of faith leaders, the hundreds of business leaders and the tens of thousands of Georgians that over the last two weeks have reached the governor’s office encouraging him to veto House Bill 757,” he added.

Graham, speaking to reporters at the Capitol, said he hoped “for a cooling off period” but admitted that could be tough since state lawmakers face voters in May primaries and in the general election in November.

A rally set for April 5, originally organized to pressure Deal to veto the bill, is still on, organizers said Monday.

Several groups applauded Deal for the veto. Even Democrats.

Lambda Legal thanked Deal for stopping the bill. The statement came from Simone Bell, Lambda's Southern Regional Director and a former lesbian state lawmaker in Georgia.

“Today we feel very fortunate that LGBT people and people with living with HIV were spared the terrible consequences of HB 757.  We applaud today’s veto by Governor Deal and thank him for his willingness to listen to the voices explaining the damage this bill could have caused. In the end, Governor Deal did not allow hate and fear-mongering to dictate state policy; instead he chose to act reasonably and with compassion and demonstrated that equality is a Georgia value. He listened to the business community, hundreds of ministers, and tens of thousands of Georgians who opposed the bill.  Freedom of religion does not give any of us permission to discriminate against others.

HB 757 would have allowed anyone to use religion to treat LGBT people, and others, unfairly and to ignore anti-discrimination policies. As is always the case when discriminatory laws target LGBT people and people living with HIV Lambda Legal is poised to defend the rights of our community.  

“But this is far from over. LGBT Georgians need strong and effective protections in both employment and public accommodations -- 21 states provide such protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and 17 on the basis of gender identity, and we need to add Georgia to the list.” 

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said Deal heard the voices of critics who said the bill has no place in Georgia.

“Our message to Governor Nathan Deal was loud and clear: this deplorable legislation was bad for his constituents, bad for business, and bad for Georgia’s future,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “Today, Governor Deal heard the voices of Georgians, civil rights organizations, as well as the many leaders in the entertainment industry and private sector who condemned this attack on the fundamental rights of LGBT people, and he has set an example for other elected officials to follow. Discrimination and intolerance have no place in the United States of America, and we hope North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly are paying close attention to what has transpired in Georgia. They must undo their disgraceful attack on LGBT people in the state’s upcoming legislative session.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund said Deal is "standing on the right side of history."

"Georgia Governor Deal is standing on the right side of history by vetoing this anti-LGBTQ discriminatory bill that would have opened up the flood gates to discrimination. We thank the tireless LGBTQ advocates, civil rights leaders, business leaders, and faith leaders who have been working around the clock to defeat discriminatory legislation in Georgia. True religious freedom does not embrace discrimination, but instead condemns hate and defeats inequality. That is why we must continue pushing for strong legislation that explicitly protects LGBTQ people against unfairness and injustice," said Rea Carey, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund.

Even Georgia Democrats applauded Deal for the veto.

Democratic Party of Georgia Communications Director Michael Smith issued the following statement on today’s announcement by Gov. Nathan Deal that he will veto HB 757.

“We commend Gov. Deal on his decision to reject this discriminatory legislation. Leaders from both sides of the aisle and the business community, as well as the countless Georgians who spoke against the politics of exclusion, also deserve a great deal of thanks for standing firm in the belief that our state is better off when we all have full and equal protection under the law.

“For Georgia to move forward, no one can be left behind. The full promise of tomorrow belongs to all of us, and it is up to all of us to ensure that this promise is within every Georgian's reach.”