Gov. Deal issues parting shot at ‘religious freedom’ bills

Gov. Nathan Deal took aim at controversial “religious freedom” legislation in the final days of his administration, saying the bills make Georgia look “weak.”

Deal made the comments during an exit interview with the AJC when asked about his 2016 veto of a sweeping anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bill.

“They couldn’t give an example why it’s needed in Georgia,” he said. “On a human level, we’re a loving state. I don’t see any reason to pass something that lends itself to the implication that the government is encouraging discrimination. That’s not good government. It doesn’t make the state strong. It makes it weak.”

Deal’s veto strained his relationship with the Georgia GOP so much that he avoided that year’s state party convention. But corporate leaders, Democrats and LGBTQ groups praised him for the move.

Deal held firm to his opposition against “religious freedom” legislation in his remaining years in office, repeatedly speaking out against it each legislative session.

His successor, former Secretary of State Brian Kemp, will be inaugurated on Jan. 14 — also marking Day One of this year’s legislative session.

Kemp has vowed to sign a “religious freedom” bill into law that mirrors the federal version, but he might not get that chance. House Speaker David Ralston said he has “serious concerns” about the legislation.

That hasn’t stopped some GOP lawmakers from pursuing the legislation anyway.