LGBT lawmakers denounce Georgia’s anti-gay bill

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Georgia’s three openly LGBT state lawmakers came together on Monday to blast an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill and urge Gov. Nathan Deal to veto it.

Reps. Karla Drenner, Keisha Waites and Park Cannon – flanked by state Reps. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, chair of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus, and Taylor Bennett – criticized House Bill 757 for targeting LGBT people and threatening the state’s economy thanks to a national backlash the legislation has spawned. 

“As an African-American black woman I am personally offended,” Waites said. “This bill personally impacts my family and I.”

“I was personally hurt by the decision of my colleagues to move forward with the decisions,” Waites added.

The lawmakers aired their grievances with the bill on Monday during a press conference in the State Capitol, just five days after lawmakers quickly passed it. The surprise measure came as lawmakers considered what to do with House Bill 757, which was the mostly innocuous Pastor Protection Act when it unanimously passed the House in February. But then the Senate added anti-gay provisions from its First Amendment Defense Act and passed the legislation on Feb. 19. 

Since, a national backlash has grown louder. But that didn’t stop lawmakers from rewriting the bill last week and offering up legislation that combined the Pastor Protection Act, the First Amendment Defense Act and a state-level Religious Freedom Restoration Act into a hybrid measure that opponents have denounced as an anti-gay effort to undercut the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.

Cannon said the legislation will make the LGBT community “inferior to their neighbors” and will “enable discrimination.”

“House Bill 757 will allow for discrimination on sincerely held religious beliefs,” Cannon said. “We continue to regress by passing sweeping discrimination measures like House Bill 757. I am sure the state of Georgia is better than this. This bill will only throw us off course.”

Drenner argued that “religious freedom” is already protected by the state and U.S. constitutions and criticized the legislation for offering “a blanket exemption” to people and faith-based groups to object to laws that they argue conflict with their religious beliefs.

“When we allow discrimination in any form, we can no longer call ourselves free. Freedom is an all or nothing principle,” Drenner said. “Whether you believe the impact to the state is real or just perception, three years of debate has negatively impacted Georgia’s brand. I respectfully call on the governor to veto this bill.”

Bennett called the Pastor Protection Act a shield and said that last week, lawmakers turned the bill into a sword.

“We brought back a three-headed monster. We added three bills together to pass something that nobody wanted,” Bennett said. “We are not leading the country by example.”

Dawkins-Haigler, who is also an ordained minister, denounced the legislation from a religious perspective.

“This piece of legislation goes against everything I believe as a Christian,” Dawkins-Haigler said. “What is right is to not discriminate against people because of sexual orientation. … What is the right thing to do? To take care of every citizen in the state of Georgia.”

Earlier this month, Deal denounced discrimination in starkly personal and religious terms, and told lawmakers he would not sign any legislation that allows it. He has until May 3 to sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without taking action.

LGBT opponents of the bill are planning an April 5 rally across from the State Capitol. Some 150 LGBT activists and progressive supporters braved freezing temperatures and a dusting of snow to rally against a slate of anti-gay bills on Feb. 9.

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