Gov. Nathan Deal, eyeing the swirling controversy in North Carolina and Mississippi over anti-gay “religious freedom” bills in those states, said he will veto similar legislation in 2017 just like he did a few weeks ago.
Deal – and Georgia – escaped the national thrashing that's unfolding in the two other Southern states since their governors signed into law anti-gay legislation. Deal, singed by a national backlash when his own party passed an anti-gay bill in March, vetoed the measure.
That hasn't stopped supporters from promising to push for a new House Bill 757 when lawmakers return to the State Capitol in January. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle wants the legislation to help bolster a possible run for governor, so he keeps lying about what the bill will actually do. House Speaker David Ralston wants another shot at the bill as well.
But Deal said he doesn't want to see a replay of the contentious, high-decibel debate over “religious freedom” legislation that dominated this year's legislative session. Via the AJC:
“I don’t want to go through the same process all over again. I’ve made my position very clear. I tried to write a very thoughtful veto message,” he said. “It expressed my concerns and it expressed my reasons for vetoing it. And those reasons won’t change in my mind.”
The eruptions over anti-gay legislation in North Carolina and Mississippi further make his point, Deal told the AJC.
Q: It seemed like the religious liberty veto was one of the hardest decisions you’ve had to make. What was your thought process?
Deal: “I knew it was a divisive issue. Everybody knew that from the beginning. The reality was that nothing that that bill sought to prevent was not already prevented by the current law of our state or of our federal government. But it had attracted a lot of connotations, rightly or wrongly, that were associated with it. And there were words and language that was in the bill that could lead to the conclusion that it was intended for purposes other than what those who were supporting it said it was intended for.
“It’s always a difficult situation to make those judgment calls. I just wish people would look at it, as I said in the beginning, and take a very deep breath. It’s time to take another deep breath. I see what’s happening in North Carolina. I see what’s happening in Mississippi. And I would hope that many of the ones that are pushing for it would not want the state of Georgia to go through that kind of scenario.
Deal told the AJC that he won't “prejudge” whether the legislation will return and if it does, in what form. But his statements make it clear that he won't back down from another veto. If the legislation does return in 2017, it won't be from Sen. Greg Kirk, the chief sponsor of a “religious freedom” bill that was morphed into House Bill 757. Kirk said he's done with sponsoring the legislation.