Ga. GOP lawmakers: RFRA needs gay protections

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Two powerful Republicans lawmakers in Georgia want a controversial “religious freedom” bill to include LGBT protections, while a third GOP lawmaker hopes the bill doesn't resurface next year.

The comments came Wednesday as the lawmakers faced questions about state Sen. Josh McKoon's “religious freedom” bill – the “Georgia Religious Freedom Restoration Act” or RFRA – during a discussion with the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, according to the AJC. The trade group is concerned that passing the bill – derided by critics as being a gateway to anti-discrimination and a threat to non-discrimination ordinances across the state – would harm tourism and the city's vibrant hospitality industry.

McKoon's bill passed the state Senate in March after legislative shenanigans and a squabble among Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert (photo), a Republican from Athens, tried to defang the measure and add LGBT protections but McKoon blocked it. That temporarily stalled the bill but Cowsert later relented when the bill reached the Senate floor. 

On Wednesday, Cowsert again said the legislation needs LGBT protections tacked on it. Via the AJC:

“If the House does pass it, I hope it includes that anti-discrimination clause to make sure we are protection people’s religious freedoms but not using that as a shield,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens said.

The bill died in the state House after Republicans successfully added LGBT protections only to have McKoon's supporters quickly kill the amended bill. On Wednesday, two House Republicans aired their issues with the bill, which is coming back for a third time in January. Rep. Brett Harrell, a Snellville Republican, said the bill shouldn't get a vote on the House floor. Rep. Beth Beskin called for LGBT protections to be added. Beskin was among three Republicans who voted to add LGBT protections to McKoon's bill in March. Via the AJC:

Harrell agreed.

“I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of the authors or those that support it,” he said. “I don’t doubt that the black and white words on the paper will do what supporters suggest.”

Still, he said, “I also would prefer it not come to the House floor for a vote.”

Beskin, said many of her constituents assume the bill is designed to allow discrimination.

“I’m not sure it is, but that’s the presumption,” she said.

But, once the anti-discrimination language was added to the bill, supporters fumed. If the bill isn’t designed to discriminate, “how can there be a problem with making that explicit in the bill?” she said.

Democrat Carolyn Hugley, the House Minority Whip, also said the bill should remain tabled, according to the AJC.

The lack of support for the “religious freedom” bill among the Republicans came a day after McKoon, in a guest column published by the AJC, tried to argue away concerns that the legislation would negatively impact Georgia's economy, as several business groups argued earlier this year. 

Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, a coalition of LGBT and progressive groups fighting the bill, fired back at McKoon in an email to supporters.

It’s clear that Sen. McKoon will say just about anything to pass his dangerous bill. Last year, when Indiana was considering a similar bill, Sen. McKoon went on record saying Georgia’s RFRA was “no different.”

But when Indiana actually passed this legislation to thunderous national outcry—and lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue—suddenly Sen. McKoon was claiming Georgia’s RFRA is “nothing like Indiana’s.”

His flip-flopping says it all. He doesn’t care what he has to say or do—as long as RFRA passes. That’s why we’ve got to work overtime to build the grassroots campaign we need to defeat this bill for good.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, wants to quash the “religious freedom” bill with his own Pastor Protection Act, which LGBT activists would likely support. Gov. Nathan Deal backed adding LGBT protections to McKoon's bill before rejecting them. And rejecting them again. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, eyeing a run for governor in 2018, is likely to diss any LGBT protections.

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