On just the third day of the new legislative session, Republican lawmakers launched an all-out assault on gay Georgians – first by having an anti-gay pastor condemn them and then by introducing bills to undermine marriage equality.
Ahead of the session, LGBT activists prepped for renewed opposition to an anti-gay "religious freedom" proposal from state Sen. Josh McKoon. But by Wednesday afternoon, it was clear that anti-gay Republicans – facing voters this year – and their religious supporters are seeking retribution for the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage last June.
The legislative day in the state Senate opened with a blistering devotional from Rev. Yoon Young Chung, senior pastor at Atlanta Grace of God Church in Suwanee, who called homosexuality "an abomination."
Senate preacher of the day warning "end of days is coming." Says "moral degradation" increasing. Calls homosexuality "an abominaton." #gapol— Kristina Torres (@The_KristinaT) January 13, 2016
Today *OUR* Georgia Senate was used to warn of the imminent end times and call homosexuality "an abomination." A disgraceful display. #gapol— Anthony M. Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) January 13, 2016
Time the Gen. Assembly ends unconstitutional proselytizing that too many times degrades LGBT folks. I can take the abuse, some can't. #gapol— Anthony M. Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) January 13, 2016
Lawmakers pulled a similar stunt last year, when Rev. Bryant Wright opened a House session with a devotional likening gay marriage to "erotic liberty" and using the occasion to promote McKoon's "religious freedom" bill.
State Sen. David Shafer (photo), a Republican and president pro tem of the Senate, invited Chung, according to the AJC. That came just a day after Shafer – the second-ranking leader in the Senate – warned that public employees should do their jobs when it comes to issuing gay marriage licenses. Via the AJC:
So it was worth pestering Senate President pro tem David Shafer on the topic this afternoon. The No. 2 ranking leader of the chamber was pretty direct. “Public employees should carry out their job responsibilities, and if that requires issuing marriage licenses, they should issue marriage licenses,” Shafer said.
The question came as state Sen. Greg Kirk is expected to file a bill offering a state version of the First Amendment Defense Act. The measure is likely to offer protections to public employees who object to gay marriages on religious grounds. Via the AJC:
But Kirk’s state version would also offer protections to county employees in Georgia who issue marriage licenses – a la Kim Davis in Kentucky.
Kirk emphasized that licenses to same-sex couples would be issued in the end. If one clerk refused, then another would do the issuing. If all clerks refused, then under his bill, the county probate judge would be obliged to perform the task.
We pressed Kirk on whether or how other public employees might be covered – a state revenue bureaucrat who processes joint tax returns, for instance. But the senator from Americus declined to get more specific.
While Shafer wants public employees to do their jobs, he does want to protect churches and non-profit organizations from gay marriage. Via the AJC:
“My concern is not with public employees, but with non-profit organizations — schools and adoption agencies whose sponsoring churches hold to the traditional view of marriage,” he said. “I do not want to see them shut down or their good work criminalized.”
Which isn't happening in Georgia since the arrival of marriage equality. But Shafer can't be bothered with those messy details (and existing legal protections). He also backs McKoon's "religious freedom" bill, which passed Shafer's Senate last year and sits stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.
The Council of Probate Judges of Georgia – which last year helped pave the way for a smooth transition to probate judges issuing marriage licenses to gay couples – said it wants nothing to do with Kirk's bill. Via the AJC:
The head of the state’s probate judges council wants to be clear about one thing: his organization has no stake in Sen. Greg Kirk’s First Amendment Defense Act proposal, which would give court clerks cover if they don’t want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Chase Daughtrey of the Council of Probate Court Judges said it doesn’t have a position on the legislation “nor have we encouraged or asked for such legislation.”
Kirk isn't likely to be swayed by any of that.
But what happened after Chung's anti-gay screed had to put more of a smile on Shafer's face. Rep. Kevin Tanner, at the behest of House Speaker David Ralston, filed House Bill 757 – the Pastor Protection Act – to reiterate that pastors who refuse to perform gay marriages are already protected by law. The measure is seen by some as a compromise to McKoon's legislation, which LGBT activists fear could help gut non-discrimination ordinances in 60 jurisdictions across Georgia. Co-sponsors include Reps. Randy Nix, Paul Battles, Jay Powell, Matt Hatchett and Beth Beskin.
Tanner apparently also wanted to include protections for private businesses that didn't want to service gay marriages. But that was stripped from the Pastor Protection Act, so Tanner struck again on Wednesday and filed House Bill 756. That measure is a rebuke to gay marriage and seeks to protect anti-gay businesses. Co-sponsors include Reps. Tom Rice, Wes Cantrell, Nix and Battles.
No sole proprietor, partner in a business partnership, or statutory close corporation under Code Section 14-2-902 shall be required to sell goods or services directly to a religious organization or for a religious or matrimonial ceremony in violation of such seller's right to free exercise of religion under the Constitution of this state or of the United 20 States."
You know it's a bad day at the Georgia Capitol when McKoon is not longer the biggest threat to LGBT equality.