Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle – the leading Republican candidate for governor – doubled-down on "religious freedom" legislation and pledged to push through an anti-LGBT adoption and foster care ban that is winding its way through the state Senate.
"I believe strongly that we have to ensure that we are protecting our religious liberties," Cagle told WSB Radio pundit – and noted anti-LGBT troll – Erick Erickson during a recent interview.
"This year in the legislature, we are doing it on the adoption bills coming out of the Senate. We are going to make sure that faith-based adoption agencies have protection and that they're not being discriminated against. People of conscience, people of faith, they need those protections," Cagle added.
Cagle was referring to Senate Bill 375, a measure from Sen. William Ligon that would allow faith-based adoption and foster care agencies receiving public funds to refuse to serve LGBT people. The measure has moved quickly since Ligon introduced it on Feb. 1. It received a hearing before a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 8 and was approved by the full panel on Feb. 20.
The legislation is now before the Senate Rules Committee, which could schedule it for a vote by the full Senate any day. Cagle, as lieutenant governor, presides over the Senate.
In addition to touting the bill as part of his conservative credentials, Cagle also said that as governor he would order state agencies to protect religious conservatives.
"As governor, I will tell you that I will have agencies that understand my clear directive that no one is going to violate your religious freedoms," Cagle said.
Guaranteeing the passage of S.B. 375 not only bolsters Cagle's record, it also adds another notch in the longtime lawmaker's anti-LGBT record – despite stating at the start of his current campaign that he won't stand for discrimination as governor. Cagle has also pledged to sign "religious freedom" legislation if elected governor.
"You always need to measure someone based on their record, right? It's easy for you to make a promise; it's easy for you to say. But what's the track record," Cagle said. "Have you been consistent to support faith-based organizations, churches and those initiatives. What's your real record in terms of being pro-life? What have you done for religious liberties? Measure my record. I have been there."
Cagle said he won't run from his record.
"Look at the conservative record and measure that. I don't think we have to run or shy away from being a conservative. I think our conservative message that I just articulated to you is very universal," Cagle said.
But then Cagle did just that – running from his record and putting distance between him and his role in the passage of House Bill 757 in 2016. It's another example of Cagle's internal political tug-of-war over LGBT issues. Sometimes he's all in on anti-LGBT legislation. Sometimes he lies about it. And sometimes he rejects it.
H.B. 757, which started as an innocuous Pastor Protection Act, was hijacked by GOP leaders in the Senate and turned into a sweeping, omnibus anti-LGBT measure. The bill generated national controversy and prompted Gov. Nathan Deal to veto it.
Cagle told Erickson that, in hindsight, he would have produced different legislation than the bill that spurred calls for a boycott of the state.
"First of all, judge my record. I've been there. And on religious liberties, I've been there. And as a lieutenant governor, to fight for that bill – and I'm going to tell you it was a fight – but we were able to get it through both the House and the Senate, and obviously it went to the governor and he vetoed it for certain reasons," Cagle said.
"Had I had it to do over again, I probably would have structured the bill very differently than I did. But what I'm telling you is that I am a very strong born again believer and I am someone that when I tell you I am going to do something, I'm going to do it," he added.