Sponsor of Georgia ‘religious freedom’ bill not giving up fight

The author of an anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bill is holding out hope he can still pass it this year by attaching it to another piece of legislation.

State Sen. Marty Harbin, a Republican from Tyrone, also said a provision of the bill is there to protect people like Kelvin Cochran, the former Atlanta fire chief who was fired after writing a book that attacked LGBTQ people and called for celebrating their deaths. Harbin called Cochran “a phenomenal guy.”

Senate Bill 221 stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 1 and failed to pass before Crossover Day, the day by which legislation must pass in one chamber of the legislature to remain active.

But Harbin (top photo) said that the bill could still pass in this year’s legislative session, according to an interview he did on WABE’s “Closer Look with Rose Scott” on March 7.

“The bill will sit and it will not get a hearing. It could possibly be amended onto another bill.” 

It’s a legislative maneuver that conservative lawmakers have used in the past with anti-LGBTQ measures.

Harbin pointed out that this is the first year in a two-year legislative cycle, so SB 221 would carry over into the 2020 session if it doesn’t pass this year. 

Harbin also told WABE that “we have to be careful” about removing a provision of SB 221 that allows people who win lawsuits against the government to recover their legal fees. He cited the case of Cochran, who sued the city in federal court after his firing. The city settled with Cochran for $1.2 million in 2018.

Harbin called Cochran “a phenomenal guy” and “a standup guy.”

“Kelvin did not have the money to defend that, and another organization helped him with that. And that’s where the ability to recover your court costs is vitally important I believe. So I think we have to be careful in that respect.”

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired Cochran in 2015 over his self-published book that lumps homosexuality with pederasty, bestiality and "all other forms for sexual perversion" and claims they are "unclean" and "whatever is the opposite of purity." In the book, Cochran also said the death of LGBTQ people and those who take part in extramarital sex should be celebrated.

Harbin filed SB 221 on Feb. 27. The bill immediately drew the ire of Georgia Equality, progressive faith leaders and the ACLU of Georgia. LGBTQ groups and business groups in Georgia have come out against anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” bills since they were first introduced in 2014.

Sine Die — the final day of this year's legislative session — is April 2.