A chief architect of an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill that has embroiled Georgia in a national controversy defended the measure on Tuesday and urged Gov. Nathan Deal to sign it into law.
“It is time for our governor to step forward and sign the bill that the people of Georgia clearly want,” state Sen. Greg Kirk said. “The bill has ben vetted thoroughly through both chambers of the General Assembly. Now I appreciate the fact that our governor has taken a slow and methodical view of the bill before he signs it. But I am sure that he will find that this is the best bill to protect everyone in Georgia.”
Kirk spoke during a press conference Tuesday about House Bill 757, which passed both chambers of the legislature last week after being rewritten and renamed the Free Exercise Protection Act. The legislation includes portions of the Pastor Protection Act, a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Kirk’s own First Amendment Defense Act.
The legislation allows faith-based organizations to discriminate against LGBT people and threatens local non-discrimination ordinances that offer LGBT protections. On Monday, the state’s three openly gay lawmakers denounced the measure and urged Deal to veto it.
The governor has until May 3 to sign, veto or allow the legislation to become law without his signature. Before it passed, Deal delivered a personal and biblical takedown of similar legislation and said he would not sign any measure that legalizes discrimination. Since its passage, Deal hasn’t hinted what action he will take.
“By the governor signing this into law, it preserves freedom. Georgia is not a state of intolerance. We are the home of a great people,” Kirk said.
Kirk said he’s working to schedule a meeting with Deal to “encourage him and answer any questions he has.” He said that he’s optimistic the governor will sign the bill.
Kirk said that throughout the legislative process, he has asked for input and made changes to the legislation. But the measure was rushed through a Senate Rules Committee hearing before lawmakers or the public had a change to review it. And Kirk said at the time that he had not talked with LGBT groups about their concerns.
On Tuesday, Kirk added that he hadn’t spoken with state Reps. Karla Drenner, Keisha Waites and Park Cannon – the legislature’s three gay members – before the measure passed last week.
The bill includes a clause that it can’t be used to allow “discrimination on any grounds by federal or state law,” but opponents have pointed out that LGBT people are not protected by state or federal laws. Non-discrimination ordinances in 60 jurisdictions across the state – including Atlanta – offer LGBT protections, but the bill threatens those. When Kirk was asked about the local measures, he said lawmakers already demonstrated this session that they weren’t interested in expanding state law to protect LGBT Georgians when they rejected them from a public accommodations bill.
“There was a bill introduced this year and it didn’t go anywhere and that tells you already that the appetite is not there for that at this point,” Kirk said.
When pressed on whether the bill would dismantle those local ordinances, Kirk hinted that it would.
“Federal law trumps state and state law trumps local law. That’s the way it works,” Kirk said.
Kirk also stood by his recent comments in which he criticized businesses opposing the legislation while operating in countries “that chop off the heads of homosexuals.”
“My point was that there seems to be a difference in ideas here. Why are you attacking Georgia? We’ve listened, we’ve worked, we’ve tried to improve this bill. I think we’ve got a good bill before the governor now. Why would you attack Georgia for passing a bill like this yet see no problem doing business in other countries where that is the case, that homosexuality is illegal and in fact punishable by death,” Kirk said.