Deal wants LGBT protections in anti-gay RFRA

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The raucous, months-long debate over Georgia’s anti-gay “religious freedom” bill prompted Gov. Nathan Deal – a Republican with a horrible record on gay issues – to come out in favor of LGBT protections if the bill resurfaces next year.

And you thought it surprising that Michael Bowers – the Republican former state Attorney General who fought LGBT issues while in office – opposed the measure, which died this week. Now Deal, who earlier in the legislative session said he would sign state Sen. Josh McKoon’s “religious freedom” bill if it reached his desk, says he wants it to address the concerns of LGBT activists, progressives and faith leaders. They said the proposal would gut gay-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in Atlanta and nearly five dozen municipalities in Georgia.

Those are the same protections that three Republicans added to McKoon’s bill before anti-gay conservative colleagues threw a legislative fit and crashed their own bill.

Via the AJC:

On the first count, Deal said hewing to the federal language would ensure none of the unintended consequences that critics say could arise, such as a legal loophole that could lead to discrimination against gays and lesbians. Supporters, meanwhile, describe it as a much-needed safeguard to protect people from government intrusion.

“As close as a state can stay to the original federal language, the safer you are,” said Deal, who voted for the federal legislation while a member of Congress in the 1990s. “It has been interpreted in the courts, so by having that model you narrow some of the arguments about what it does or does not do.”

He called the anti-discrimination clause “the most important” addition.

“And that is a delicate thing to do,” he said. “There’s been so much hyperbole. It’s hard to identify what can you say without saying too much, what can you say without saying too little, and what will people read into either version.”

Deal’s evolution on the issue is a surprise. He’s no friend to gay men with HIVand a notorious homophobe on the campaign trail, even if he does pull some pork with the gays for lunch.

Deal’s statement also heightens the very deep and very public Republican divide over the “religious freedom” bill. House Speaker David Ralston has questioned the need for it, and likely quashed a similar House version, and attempts to add LGBT protections prompted a showdown between Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert and McKoon during a committee hearing.

Deal’s likely listening to business leaders and tourism officials concerned about replicating the national outcry over a “religious freedom” bill in Indiana this month. Because if Deal really supported LGBT equality, he could push through a proposal that would protect the gay employees he oversees in state government. Like McKoon’s bill, that measure from state Rep. Karla Drenner, a lesbian, stalled during the legislative session. Drenner's bill didn't even get a hearing.

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