A crowd of about 200 LGBT activists, progressives and faith leaders rallied against Georgia's so-called "religious freedom" bill on Tuesday, criticizing the measure as opening the door to anti-gay discrimination.
"We know this is about discrimination and we know those efforts are wrong, and today we send a strong, unified message to the state legislature that we will stop this legislation," said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality (first video, below).
The Atlanta rally – at Liberty Plaza across the street from the State Capitol – came as lawmakers consider the fate of Senate Bill 129. That's the "religious freedom" proposal from Republican state Sen. Josh McKoon that has generated controversy during the legislative session. McKoon argues that the bill is "a simple, modest, common sense protection for people of faith." But critics – including faith leaders – blast his proposal as opening the door to anti-gay discrimination and a reactionary strike against gay marriage sweeping the country.
McKoon's measure easily passed the state Senate on March 5 and awaits action by the House. A GOP-effort to tweak the bill to specifically prohibit discrimination failed, and Graham said during Tuesday's rally that the bill must be stopped.
"The current version of Senate Bill 129 is not something that should be supported by our legislature. It is not something that is good for people of faith. It is not something that is good for the reputation of the state that we call home," Graham said.
The rally – organized by a coalition of groups under the umbrella of Georgia Unites Against Discrimination – featured several speakers, including Graham; Brad DiFiore, a member of HRC's board of governors; Rev. Tim McDonald, senior pastor at First Iconium Baptist Church; Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B'nail Torah; and David Cooke, the Macon District Attorney who has spoken out against the legislation.
The rally also included another Republican speaking out against McKoon's bill. David Bachman, a gay Republican and small business owner, criticized that measure as the work of a small group of Republicans. Former Georgia Attorney General Michael Bowers, a Republican who fought LGBT issues while in office, has also come out against McKoon's legislation.
"I will not let a small minority of vocal legislators hijack my state. This bill will open the door to discrimination and close the door to business," Bachman said (second video).