After three years of debate over anti-gay “religious freedom” bills, two Georgia state senators want even more – including the author of an anti-gay bill that nearly became law earlier this year.
So state Sens. Greg Kirk (photo) and Vincent Fort are making plans for a series of four debates across Georgia in September to engage the public in a way that dueling press conferences, rallies and legislative hearings didn’t. Via the AJC’s Political Insider:
“During the session, many times I said we need more debate on this issue. The public needs to be engaged,” Kirk said Tuesday, while at a Georgia Chamber luncheon in Macon.
One debate – the one in Atlanta – would be held in a church. The other three would be held at Savannah State, Mercer University, and the UGA campus conference center in Tifton, Kirk said.
But Kirk asking for more debate is a change for him. Lawmakers resorted to legislative tricks to move his bill forward earlier this year – holding a brief, unannounced hearing before scheduling another hearing days later only to delay it for hours before finally postponing it. Then Senate leaders offered rewritten legislation that combined Kirk's bill with other legislation and passed it through the Senate Rules Committee without lawmakers or the public having a chance to review it.
Nevermind that Kirk said after the legislation was vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal that he was done with “religious freedom” so he could move on to other issues.
Kirk and Fort coming together for the debate series makes for a political odd couple. Kirk, a former Baptist pastor, isn’t a fan of anything LGBT despite his stays in Midtown. Fort, an Atlanta Democrat, is a progressive lawmaker that fights against anti-gay proposals – except when he’s stuck in the bathroom.
Fort and Kirk are working with the Georgia Press Association and the Georgia Association of Broadcasters to plan the debates, according to the AJC.
Ahead of the 2016 legislative session, advocates on both sides debated “religious freedom” in front of a packed crowd of attorneys and activists. That pairing included state Sen. Josh McKoon – the public face of the anti-gay legislation at the State Capitol – and Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality.
McKoon plans to resurface “religious freedom” legislation when lawmakers return next year, even as he complains that LGBT activists are blackmailing him.