Georgia businesses lash out at anti-gay bill

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Nearly 100 businesses, trade groups and colleges came out swinging against a “religious freedom” bill, launching a new effort called Georgia Prospers to fight the legislation that critics call anti-gay.

The bill from state Sen. Josh McKoon will surface again in the upcoming legislative session, which opens on Monday. The groups – including Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola, UPS, SunTrust, Home Depot, Google, Post Properties and Emory – fired a pre-emptive shot on Wednesday. Via the AJC:

It marks the first organized effort by business and education leaders to combat a “religious liberty” push at the state Capitol many in the gay community fear could allow discrimination — and that the corporate world fears would make an economic pariah of the Peach State. Religious liberty supporters, however, cast it as a new line of defense to protect people of any religion from interference.

Regardless, both sides are gearing up for battle when the state Legislature starts back to work Monday with at least three different bills that fall under the religious liberty umbrella, including one aiming to protect public employees who object to same-sex marriage.

Businesses and trade groups have spoken out against the legislation in the past. And last year, officials with the Metro Atlanta Chamber and Georgia Chamber studied the threat of economic blowback if the “religious freedom” bill became law in Georgia. 

Via the AJC:

Georgia Prospers asks companies to sign a pledge saying they will welcome “all people, no matter one’s race, sex, color, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to a copy of the pledge obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The goal is visibility — the companies and their logos will be listed on a new website, georgiaprospers.org. And the companies are also expected to use their alliance with the group as marketing during the expected battle this year in the state Legislature.

Lining up against McKoon's “religious freedom” bill doesn't come without consequences for the businesses. Delta CEO Richard Anderson forcefully denounced the legislation in 2014 and during the following legislative session, conservative lawmakers struck back at a fuel tax break that saved the company about $23 million a year. McKoon later blasted the gay-friendly company for its “liberal far-left cultural norms.” Georgia Prospers  also includes Coke and UPS, which stood firm in their opposition after McKoon's criticism.

Business members of Georgia Prospers said it's an effort to make sure Georgia is “a welcoming state.” Via the AJC:

“Part of what makes our business climate so appealing is Southern hospitality,” is how Dave Stockert, CEO of Post Properties, described the new effort, which he said was intended to make “the world…know this is a welcoming state. When people feel welcome, they feel at home and more likely to want to live here, more likely to invest here, more likely to open a business here.”

Delta said supporting Georgia Prospers is an effort to stand with their employees and customers. Via the Atlanta Business Chronicle:

“Delta is proud of our long history as a Georgia-based company,” Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said. “With more than 30,000 employees across Georgia, we are also proud of our diverse work force and customer base, which is why we have joined with more than 100 Georgia companies as part of Georgia Prospers, which supports workplaces and communities that are diverse and welcoming for all people.”

In March, hospitality groups warned that the legislation could cost the state $15 million in convention business. During a forum on Wednesday, McKoon dismissed those concerns as “laughable.”

View the full list of Georgia Prospers members.

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