Poor Gov. Nathan Deal. He's in a political pickle. He wants to appease conservatives bent on passing an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill without wrecking the state's economy and making Georgia a national embarrassment.
Watching him navigate it is like viewing a slow-motion train wreck in an Instagram video.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act proposal from state Sen. Josh McKoon is splitting Republicans while enraging LGBT activists and progressives. McKoon has taken a scorched earth policy, consequences be damned, but Deal wants to bridge the rift it's caused among Republicans.
In an interview Tuesday, he urged lawmakers to model the proposal next year on that 1993 language, which does not include the anti-discrimination clause that many critics have said is essential to prevent the legislation from being used as an excuse to discriminate against gays now that same-sex marriage is legal.
“As long as we follow the federal model, which has not produced the kinds of catastrophic results that maybe both sides are predicting that legislation of that type would do, I think we stand a very good chance of getting a piece of legislation accomplished that will rightfully protect people from government in terms of their religious beliefs and at the same time not be disruptive to commerce.”
Occasionally, Deal does right by LGBT issues. He and Attorney General Sam Olens made it clear that although they didn't support gay marriage that the state would once the U.S. Supreme Court ruling came down. Deal also appointed a gay-friendly Republican lawmaker to a judicial post, though that could have removed Mike Jacobs from again standing in the way of McKoon's RFRA. And he signed into law a bullying bill that's likely to help LGBT students.
So maybe he'll do right by this fight and again push for LGBT protections in McKoon's or broker a compromise that settles with a defanged Pastor Protection Act. Or he'll screw LGBT folks like he does people with HIV.