Lawmaker lashes out at gay marriage in Georgia

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A Republican state lawmaker who warned of a legislative assault on gay marriage made good on his promise Wednesday, filing his First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia. It's worse than anyone expected. 

Sen. Greg Kirk, a former Southern Baptist pastor from Americus, hinted in December that he wanted to protect public officials with religious objections to gay marriage. The bill he filed on Wednesday does that – and much more, according to LGBT activists and pundits.

The bill would amend state law “to prohibit discriminatory action against a person who believes, speaks, or acts in accordance with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that the sexual relations are properly reserved to such marriage.”

It's the most far-reaching of the anti-gay bills filed during the legislative session, which opened earlier this month. There's Sen. Josh McKoon's “religious freedom” proposal, leftover from last year, along with two fresh attacks on LGBT equality – House Bill 757, the Pastor Protection Act, and House Bill 756, which would protect private businesses who refuse to service gay couples getting married.

LGBT pundits pounced on Kirk's bill on Wednesday. Law professor and political pundit Anthony Kreis called the measure, “The Kim Davis bill is RFRA on steroids.”

Kirk's bill comes as House Speaker David Ralston was hoping his Pastor Protection Act would be a compromise to McKoon's RFRA bill. It turned out to have more bite than LGBT activists had hoped. 

The fate of Kirk's bill isn't yet clear. Probate judges – the officials who grant marriage licenses – don't want it. And Sen. David Shafer, president pro tem, said earlier this month that “public employees should carry out their job responsibilities,” even if that means marrying gay couples. 

And Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue said state lawmakers should leave the anti-gay legislating to the feds – like them.

UPDATE | Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality and head of Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, blasted Kirk's bill as an effort that threatens LGBT couples and the state's economy.

“Sen. Kirk’s legislation flouts the rule of law, and I believe all Georgians understand how important it is that we acknowledge and follow the laws that govern our society. This legislation sets a dangerous precedent – we can’t pick and choose which laws we want to follow based on our personal beliefs. Government officials can’t deny services to legally married couples simply because they don’t approve of their marriage.
 
“This bill not only exposes married same-sex couples and their children in Georgia to harm, but it risks imperiling our state’s economy. The Metro Atlanta Chamber warned last month that bills opening up gay and transgender people to discrimination could harm our state’s economy by $1 billion dollars. And just today, a new report out of Indiana illustrated the damage done to the state’s reputation following the enactment of an overly broad exemptions bill there last year.
 
“This isn’t a bill that Georgia needs right now – it’s bad for our families and it’s bad for our businesses. It’s time for us to talk about how we can respect and protect all Georgians – including both people of faith and gay and transgender people.”

Graham added that the legislation would allow state employees and contractors to discriminate against married gay couples, and let non-profit and religious organizations that receive public funds to opt of out non-discrimination policies.

UPDATE | National LGBT groups are also condemning Kirk's proposal. The Human Rights Campaign called it “outrageous legislation.” 

“Freedom of religion is important. That’s why it is already fully protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow.

“Fair-minded Georgians must not be fooled by Rep. Kirk’s despicable attempt to mask discrimination against LGBT Georgians and their families with religious freedom. This reckless legislation would have dangerous and far reaching consequences by allowing state government officials to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families.”

Lambda Legal said the bill is “divisive and dangerous.”

“We are extremely disappointed that Georgia’s antigay lawmakers are once again trying to allow religious discrimination in many areas of life for Georgia’s families, workers and others. We have seen this over and over – bills that say they are about protecting one thing when the real goal is to target and discriminate against gay and transgender people and people of minority faiths, with vast implications for everyone. FADA is divisive and dangerous. It encourages discrimination, invites litigation, and collides with fundamental rights protected under the US Constitution.  

“As written, this bill will upend the balance between religious freedom and freedom from imposition of others’ religious beliefs.  It provides special protections for people to justify discrimination. Lambda Legal urges the Georgia General Assembly to halt this bill before it causes damage and legal havoc between neighbors, employee and employer, community member and government worker, customer and company, and landlord and tenant. If enacted, FADA would extend religious rights to for-profit companies of all sizes – no matter what goods they make or services they sell, they would be treated much like churches. Freedom of religion is already strongly protected by federal and state law – this bill goes too far.”

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