Along the way to the national backlash over Sen. Greg Kirk's anti-gay “religious freedom” bill, the Republican from Americus has said he vetted it. With everyone. Even his gay friends. Turns out, there's only three of them.
Kirk introduced his First Amendment Defense Act during a Jan. 21 press conference at the State Capitol. He bragged of extensively vetting the bill and that he was on the fifth draft. So I asked him if his vetting process included LGBT groups. It didn't. (Watch the exchange below at the 15-minute mark).
“None of the groups have come to me to talk to me. I have had other groups come to talk with me,” Kirk said.
But it did include some friends who live the “gay lifestyle.”
“Look, I'm 52 years old. I've grown up with friends who now live a gay lifestyle but they are still very close friends to me and I care deeply about them. And I have shared this with some of my friends and asked their viewpoint as well and that's been part of my vetting process,” he added.
So in a brilliant follow up, AJC columnist Bill Torpy set out to find Kirk's gay friends to ask them about the legislation. (Since its introduction in January, the bill's anti-gay provisions have been morphed with the innocuous Pastor Protection Act. The measure was passed by the Senate on Friday.)
First, Torpy pressed Kirk on the response to the bill from his gay friends.
The senator said the reaction in his conversations was “kind of mixed.” Pressed a bit, he added, “I don’t know if any are going to jump out and cheer for it. But they feel the movement has come along so far.
And then Kirk added that during the legislative session, he stays in Midtown. You know, home to gay weather daddy Sam Champion and ground zero for the “gay lifestyle.” That allows him to talk to the gays in their natural habitat.
In fact, the senator says he now has a new input stream — Midtown, where he stays during the legislative session, a place that is the Gay Capital of the South. “Some of those folks, I talk to there,” he said.
I forgot to ask what they said, but I can only imagine.
Then Torpy gets down to the nitty-gritty, pushing Kirk to admit that really, he's only got three gay friends. And they aren't talking.
The senator took my info and said he’d pass it onto his friends. Later, he messaged me, “Bill, the only one, and there are only three, that I thought would speak with you said no.”
Part of me wanted to head to his district to search out those friends, but I figured it would be akin to a six-hour round trip in search of a leprechaun — a low-percentage outing. I mean, I’m sure there are gay people in the 13th District, and I’m sure there are friends of Senator Kirk there, too. But finding people who are both?
So as Kirk drafted legislation that targets LGBT people for discrimination, he couldn't be bothered to have serious conversations with them during the vetting of the legislation. And neither could lawmakers, who rushed a substitute bill through the Senate Rules Committee so quickly last week that people who testified during a brief hearing hadn't even seen the current draft. Yet Kirk, again, bragged that it's been vetted – even by the gays.
“I listened to the concerns of the faith community, the business community and the LGBT community and I truly believe this legislation protects all individuals,” Kirk said.
Except when it doesn’t.