House Speaker David Ralston wants his slap at gay marriage considered first, putting it ahead of three other more anti-gay proposals in front of lawmakers at the Georgia Capitol.
House Speaker David Ralston said Friday he plans to ask that a “preacher protection” bill he is backing be given priority over other “religious liberty” bills being pushed in this year’s General Assembly session.
The preacher protection act would write into state law that a religious leader could not be compelled to perform a same sex-marriage.
Ralston said it’s less divisive than some of the other measures and accomplishes the goal of showing that Georgia strongly believes in the separation of church and state.
As the most powerful Republican lawmaker in the House, Ralston is likely to get his wish. That could be a good thing considering what’s waiting in the wings. State Sen. Josh McKoon’s controversial “religious freedom” bill is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee and state Rep. Kevin Tanner’s House Bill 756 – which would allow private businesses to deny service to gay couples getting married – is also headed to the same committee.
When Ralston’s Pastor Protection Act was little more than a concept last summer, LGBT activists opined that it was likely something they could support. Ralston, after all, was pitching the bill as a way to avoid the simmering controversy of McKoon’s legislation and it’s lack of LGBT protections.
But now that Ralston’s idea turned into Tanner’s bill, a piece of House Bill 757 is drawing fire from LGBT pundits. They argue that it, like McKoon’s bill, could unwind LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in 60 jurisdictions across the country.
In other words, the Pastor Protection Act would allow groups to discriminate in housing in a manner they’ve never been allowed to since the passage of federal and state fair housing law against a number of protected groups— against women, nontraditional families, and disfavored religious groups— not to mention LGBT persons if local governments have banned housing discrimination for LGBT people. Simply put: section 3 of the Pastor Protection Act opens the door to a host of invidious acts in the buying, renting, and selling of housing otherwise already prohibited under state law. Religious organizations have never had such broad discretion to discriminate in housing in the modern civil rights era.
More than housing, section 3 would give license to discriminate when religious groups offer spaces as public accommodations or take taxpayer-funded grants conditioned on equal public access. For example, if a religious group rents out space for secular activities unrelated to marriage or religious sacraments like birthday parties, that group could reject hosting a birthday party because a person is openly gay. This is not pure speculation. Indeed, one Georgia church has already banned renting space for birthday parties if they have a religious objection.
Another problematic situation could arise if a religious group accepts public funds that would ordinarily come with a condition to open themselves to the public. Again, this issue is not speculative. In New Jersey, a religious organization refused to rent a beachside pavilion to a same-sex couple despite taking public funds from the state’s rural preservation program which required that property was “open to all on an equal basis.” This bill would disallow localities and agencies from requiring those who take public money to serve the public.
Tanner wanted to make the Pastor Protection Act a more explicit attack on LGBT equality. Instead, he spun the most biting portion – allowing private businesses to discriminate against gay couples getting married – into H.B. 756 and introduced both bills on Wednesday.
And while House members deal with those bills, the state Senate is likely to get its own anti-gay legislation. State Sen. Greg Kirk is expected to introduce a state version of the First Amendment Defense later this week. That measure would offer protections to public employees who refuse to grant marriage licenses to gay couples.
Probate judges – the officials who grant the licenses – don’t want it. Even the Senate’s second in command, David Shafer – best buds with an anti-gay pastor – seems uninterested.