Move aside, Mike Bowers. Supporters of “religious freedom” legislation in the Georgia Legislature fired back at the Republican former attorney general with their own slate of legal experts lauding the anti-gay bills.
A slate of 14 law professors, from Harvard to Notre Dame and the University of Virginia, offered their analysis of state Rep. Sam Teasley's House Bill 218. The conclusion? Bowers and other LGBT opponents of the legislation are making “absurd claims.”
Curiously, Teasley’s experts say the bill might not offer protection to small businesses seeking to duck gay marriage. A few choice paragraphs:
Opponents of these bills often make absurd claims about the extreme results they would allegedly produce, but they have no examples of judicial decisions actually reaching such results. In the places where this standard applies, it has not been interpreted in crazy ways that have caused problems for those jurisdictions; if anything, these laws have been enforced too cautiously. Litigants can argue anything, but the general experience with Religious Freedom Restoration Acts has been under enforcement, not over enforcement….
Much of the opposition to HB 218 appears to center on the fear that religious owners of for-profit businesses might use the state RFRA as a shield against discrimination claims. The only prominent case involved a Christian wedding photographer who was sued after refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony, believing she would thereby be promoting an immoral act deeply at odds with her religious understanding of the meaning of marriage and of weddings. See Elane Photography v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53 (N.M. 2013).
For many religious believers, weddings are inherently religious events in which their participation must conform to religious obligations. There are serious arguments for exempting religious individuals who personally provide creative services to assist with weddings. But whatever one thinks of those arguments, it is far from clear that HB 218 would lead courts to recognize such an exemption.
The response form Teasley came a day after Bowers – the former attorney general who fought LGBT issues during his four terms – sided with LGBT activists in denouncing that bill and Sen. Josh McKoon's similar S.B. Bill 129.
“This legislation is not about gay marriage, or contraception, or even so-called 'religious freedom,'” Bowers wrote in his analysis. “It is more important than all of these, because it ultimately involves the rule of law. Regardless of whether one agrees with a particular policy, or if it offends one’s religious sensibilities, the proposed [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] is bad for all Georgians of good faith, or for that matter, of any faith whatsoever. It is not just bad public policy; it is ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly.”
Meanwhile, McKoon remains optimistic about his bill.