Georgia lawmakers plan assault on gay marriage

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LGBT activists, bracing for the third round in the fight over an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill, now face a more serious threat when lawmakers return to the State Capitol next month: A direct assault on gay marriage. 

Sen. Greg Kirk (photo), a former Southern Baptist pastor and Republican from Americus, is proposing a state version of the First Amendment Defense Act. The federal proposal would prohibit the federal government from punishing people and businesses that object to gay marriage on religious grounds. 

With gay marriage now legal in Georgia, Kirk wants those same protections for any Kim Davis wannabes in this state. Via the AJC's Political Insider:

Kirk’s bill would overtly extend specific protections to Georgians, including public employees, who maintain that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman — and act accordingly.

The legislation has yet to be filed with the clerk of the Senate. Reached by phone in Americus, Senator Kirk said his measure was still being tweaked, but he confirmed that one aim would be to protect local and state employees with religious objections to gay marriage.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, looking for a fight over gay marriage despite concerns about his own marital bliss, can't wait to see Kirk's bill. Via the AJC:

“We have received a copy of this legislation and are currently reviewing it in preparation for the upcoming session,” said Irene Munn, the top policy aide for Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. “Any legislation seeking to protect First Amendment freedoms deserves careful consideration and thoughtful debate. The lieutenant governor will work, in his role as presiding officer, to ensure that occurs.”

Kirk's proposal pulls back the veneer on the “religious freedom” fight that has unfolded during the last two legislative sessions. State Sen. Josh McKoon, the bill's sponsor, has said it's not anti-gay legislation while critics charged it could undo LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances in place across the state. LGBT activists, progressive supporters and some business groups mounted a fierce fight against the legislation earlier this year, an effort that helped stall it in the House after the Senate easily passed it. House Speak David Ralston has hinted at a compromise with his Pastor Protection Act to avoid another contentious fight.

But there's no subtlety about Kirk's bill. Via the AJC:

Obviously, a new front in the war over gay marriage isn’t happy news for the state’s gay rights activists. “That sounds like it would be legislation specifically designed to target the LGBT community,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality. “That would be of great concern to me.”

As many others already have, Graham pointed to the fact that the coming debate will be conducted in the volatile climate of a Republican presidential primary. The vote in Georgia is March 1, in the midst of next year’s legislative session.

At least six presidential candidates – Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – have pledged their support of a federal First Amendment Defense Act.

McKoon is a state co-chair for Cruz, who routinely attacks gay marriage on the campaign stump. 

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