Bill would protect anti-gay businesses in Georgia

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Anti-gay Republicans in the Georgia House threw down the gauntlet on Wednesday, filing a bill that would protect private businesses who refuse service to gay couples getting married. 

The measure – House Bill 756 – was filed by state Rep. Kevin Tanner (photo), a Republican from Dawsonville who earlier in the day also filed the Pastor Protection Act. That legislation is considered a polite compromise to a controversial “religious freedom” bill from state Sen. Josh McKoon.

But Tanner's latest bill isn't so polite. Instead, it seeks to undermine the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in June legalizing gay marriage across the country. Via the AJC:

Florists, bakers or any other private business owner could refuse service to gay couples getting married in Georgia, under legislation filed Wednesday that is likely to inflame the battle at the Capitol over religious freedom and gay rights.

House Bill 756 would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs in refusing goods or services for a “matrimonial ceremony” — a blunt assessment of conservatives’ outrage after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June state prohibitions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

The bill represents the worst fears of gay rights advocates and others who have fought the last two years against other so-called religious liberty legislation. 

State Sen. Greg Kirk is expected to also propose a state version of the First Amendment Defense Act, a measure that would provide protections for public officials who object to gay marriages on religious grounds.

UPDATE | Tanner's bill was spwaned from a portion he stripped out of the Pastor Protection Act he also filed on Wednesday. Via Georgia Pol:

When developing the Pastor Protection Act, one idea under consideration was protecting small businesses from having to serve a customer if such service would violate the religious beliefs of the business owner. According to someone involved in developing the bill, this language would have the effect of allowing a baker or florist with strong religious beliefs to deny service to a same sex wedding couple.

While that provision was in the Pastor Protection act as late as last week, it was stripped from the version of the bill that was filed today. However, the provision was turned into a separate measure, House Bill 756. The exact details of the bill are unknown, including any restrictions on company size or ownership in order to be covered by the bill. It is also unknown whether the measure has the support of Speaker Ralston, as the Pastor Protection Act does.

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