Peace Out. That's the message from Sen. Greg Kirk, whose anti-gay “religious freedom” bill consumed the State Capitol. Now that it's been vetoed, he said he won't lead the charge again next year.
Maybe his gay neighbors in Midtown helped him see the light. Or those elusive gay friends from his hometown of Americus talked him off the anti-gay ledge. Or more likely, the Republican and former Baptist pastor is backing away after the national blowback his legislation generated.
Kirk won't say exactly why he won't lead the charge on “religious freedom” in the 2017 legislative session. But he did make it clear that he's “moving on.” Via WALB:
“I've carried this bill,” said Senator Kirk. “And I've done my part. And it's up to someone else to pick it up and take it from here.”
Kirk introduced Senate Bill 284, the First Amendment Defense Act, in January. The sweeping anti-gay bill was quickly denounced as divisive and a threat to legally married gay couples. Lawmakers resorted to legislative tricks to move it forward – holding a brief, unannounced hearing on Feb. 1 before scheduling another hearing days later only to delay it for hours before finally postponing it. On Feb. 16, Senate leaders offered rewritten legislation that combined Kirk's bill with other legislation and passed it through the Senate Rules Committee without lawmakers or the public having a chance to review it.
Three days later, the Senate approved the bill after prohibiting any amendments. The bill kicked off a national backlash that only intensified after lawmakers rewrote the legislation again, turning it into House Bill 757, and passed it on March 16.
Kirk repeatedly defended the legislation and said he “extensively” vetted it, including with a couple of his gay friends.
“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 said in January.
Turns out, Kirk has three gay friends and none of them could be found. But hey, the lawmaker did say he's in close proximity to the gays during the legislative session. After all, his temporary home is in a Midtown condo building. Via the AJC:
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.
Kirk wasn't pleased when Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the legislation on Monday. Without a hint of irony, Kirk accused LGBT groups and businesses of bullying the governor. Via the Albany Herald:
“I can remember being bullied twice in grades K through 12 and I lived in fear,” Kirk said. “The fear stayed until I stood up to them. I think the governor has been bullied. I think it’s a terrible thing that the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community and the business community were able to bully him into not signing that bill. That’s the only comment I’ve got right now.”
And Kirk, like other supporters of the legislation, continued to misrepresent what's in the bill. Via the AJC:
“I respectfully disagree with Governor Deal’s decision,” Kirk said in an email to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The bill “was a deliberately drawn piece of legislation that did not discriminate against the LGBT and protected the faith community.”
But Kirk stayed off the crazy train of lawmakers and Georgia Baptists calling for a special session to overturn Deal's veto. So there's that.
He's running for a second term and is unopposed in the GOP primary in May. In November, he faces retiree Ruenett Melton in the general election. If he wins a second term, Kirk told WTVM that he wants to focus on healthcare issues.
[h/t Georgia Pol]