New civil rights bill leaves out LGBT Georgians

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A Cobb Republican proposed a sweeping civil rights law that prohibits discrimination in public accommodations – a first for Georgia. But the measure, with bipartisan support, leaves out LGBT people.

State Rep. Rich Golick, a Republican from Smyrna, introduced the Georgia Civil Rights in Public Accommodations Act on Tuesday. House Bill 849 comes with a list of powerful, bipartisan co-sponsors, including House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams and Rep. Calvin Smyre, both Democrats, and Republican Reps. Wendell Willard, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones. Rep. Karla Drenner, a Democrat and the longest-serving openly gay lawmaker in the state, is also a sponsor.

The measure would prohibit businesses including hotels, restaurants, gas stations and entertainment venues from turning away customers based on their race, color, religion or national origin, according to the AJC. But despite Drenner's support, the measure does not include gender or sexual orientation in its list of protected categories.

Golick said the measure, modeled after the federal civil rights law, is a starting point. Via the AJC:

Golick called his proposal a proper starting point. “My hope is that the General Assembly in collaboration with the governor will expand that list and be as inclusive as possible when it comes to the issue of anti-discrimination,” he said.

LGBT activists applauded Golick's measure but said that it doesn't go far enough. Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, has called on lawmakers to pass a comprehensive non-discrimination bill that protects LGBT people. He did so during a forum on Jan. 6 and again in a Jan. 10 column in the Saporta Report.


Gay law professor and pundit Anthony Kreis said LGBT protections should be added to Golick's bill. Via the AJC:

“The introduction of any serious piece of civil rights legislation in this state is laudable,” said Anthony Kreis, a constitutional scholar at the University of Georgia. The fact Georgia is one of only five states without a public accommodations law “is a distinction which we should be glad to rid ourselves of in 2016.”

Lawmakers should extend the ban, Kreis added. “There is no good reason to not include LGBT persons expressly in the bill given the intense debate that we’re having on exemptions elsewhere in the General Assembly.”


Golick's bill comes as lawmakers face at least five anti-gay bills this session. The latest came Tuesday as Rep. Ed Setzler, also a Cobb Republican, introduced House Bill 837. The measure is a new version of a “religious freedom” bill that has roiled the State Capitol for the last three sessions.

On Thursday, Sen. Greg Kirk introduced the most sweeping of the anti-gay measures, his First Amendment Defense Act. Senate Bill 284 would allow people, businesses and churches to discriminate against LGBT couples seeking to marry or adopt. 

Rep. Kevin Tanner has also filed two bills – House Bill 756, which would allow private businesses to deny service to gay couples getting married, and House Bill 757, which is the Pastor Protection Act and would reaffirm that pastors could not be forced to conduct gay marriages. LGBT critics contend that bill, though, would also threaten non-discrimination ordinances.

Finally, there's the “religious freedom” bill from Sen. Josh McKoon. LGBT activists and progressive critics have blasted McKoon's bill as a threat to LGBT inclusive non-discrimination policies in 60 jurisdictions across the state. McKoon's defends his Senate Bill 129 as offering modest protections for people of faith.

Drenner, a co-sponsor of Golick's bill, filed the Fair Employment Practices Act in 2015. House Bill 323 would ban discrimination against LGBT state employees. The bill has languished, as it has in past sessions, despite support from Willard and Abrams.


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