With cries of “Not in my name, not in our name, not in God's name,” more than 150 LGBT activists, progressives and faith leaders marched around the State Capitol on Tuesday to denounce the anti-gay “religious freedom” bill struggling to survive.
The legislation, which suffered a near fatal blow last week, remains on political life support and could resurface as an amendment to other legislation. So LGBT opponents of state Sen. Josh McKoon's controversial Senate Bill 129 urged their supporters to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to kill it.
“I love the state of Georgia and we have our challenges here and we have a long way to go. But I don't want to see Georgia become the next Indiana,” Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, told rally participants gathered inside Central Presbyterian Church across from the State Capitol.
“And I know if you remain vigilant over the next couple of days we can prevent that from happening,” he added. (Watch Graham's comments and the march in the video below.)
Graham warned that legislators could attach McKoon's bill – without the amendment protecting against LGBT discrimination – to a handful of bills still under consideration. The legislative session ends Thursday at midnight.
“By showing up, by speaking out, we can prevent that,” he said. “They have now been clear – some people are looking to use this bill as a vehicle to discriminate against folks. And we know that because there is no statewide protection for the gay and transgender community in Georgia, we are the most vulnerable to the discrimination.”
The crowd then marched along Washington Street to Mitchell and to an entrance to the Capitol. A contingent of 10 state troopers appeared and watched over the crowd as they chanted “RFRA is not in good faith” and “Not in my name, not in our name, not in God's name.” Outside the Capitol, the crowd filled out notes opposing the bill to be distributed to lawmakers.
State Sen. Vincent Fort marched with the crowd and was joined at the Capitol by another gay-friendly lawmaker, Rep. Pat Gardner. State Reps. Karla Drenner and Keisha Waites, two of the state's three openly gay lawmakers, also came out to support the rally.
The march came as Mayor Kasim Reed spoke out publicly against the bill. In comments to WGST, he pointed to the uproar over a similar bill in Indiana, signed into law last week by Gov. Mike Spence. The state faces calls for a boycott from opponents of the law, a move that could impact the state's convention and tourism industries.
Reed said “take what's happening in Indiana and multiply that by two or three” if the “religious freedom” bill becomes law in Georgia.
“The consequences for working people would be devastating,” Reed told WGST. “Our economy would be devastated by the number of conventions that would withdraw from Georgia.”
In a statement to Project Q, Reed said he'll fight the “religious freedom” bill and that it's “wholly inconsistent” with the city's non-discrimination policy.
“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act is wholly inconsistent with the City of Atlanta’s non-discrimination policy and our values of acceptance and inclusion,” Reed said. “The bill seeks to reverse the progress we have made as a city, and nation, to protect the civil rights of all Americans including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. My Administration will make every effort to prevent this bill from passing and we remain committed to making Atlanta a more welcoming city for all her citizens – regardless of their sexual orientation, gender, race and/or religious beliefs.”
The hospitality industry in Georgia is already warning that the state's vibrant convention business could take see an immediate $15 million hit if the “religious freedom” bill passes, something McKoon dismissed as “extortion.” The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau also came out against the bill.
And political pundits continue to speculate that the “religious freedom” legislation is stalling legislative approval of a massive transportation funding bill – conservative lawmakers want the anti-gay bill passed before they vote to raise revenue to fund the transportation bill – while also threatening attempts to lure a new Volvo manufacturing plant to the state.
Opponents of McKoon's bill also rallied at the State Capitol on March 17.