Republicans offer compromise on anti-gay bill

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As Georgia lawmakers wrestle with an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill, a national controversy swirling around them, two Republican lawmakers say they've found a compromise. 

The plan from Reps. Allen Peake (photo) and Beth Beskin would remove much of the anti-gay fangs from House Bill 757 that have sparked a national backlash and a legislative nightmare for Gov. Nathan Deal and House Speak David Ralston. 

Via the AJC:

Their plan, revealed in an email to Deal’s aides and House Speaker David Ralston obtained Tuesday through a public records request, would strip the Senate proposal of language that would enable faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples while keeping the part that states clergy could not be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

He would also add a line declaring that no business “shall be required to sell goods or services directly to a religious organization or for a religious or matrimonial ceremony.”

Let's call that compromise discrimination light. It returns the legislation – mostly – to its earlier state when H.B. 757 was the Pastor Protection Act and before the Senate hijacked it by adding on all that is bad in Sen. Greg Kirk's Frist Amendment Defense Act. That move, sealed in a 38-14 Senate vote on Feb. 19, generated a backlash from businesses that continues to grow.

Peake's added caveat takes the protections offered to clergy and churches in the Pastor Protection Act – reaffirming their right to reject participating in LGBT weddings – and seemingly expands it to include businesses. The devil – or in this case, the potential for discrimination – is in the details of the compromise.

Via the AJC:

“Guys, as you know I have a gay brother and have serious concerns about the language added in the Senate onto HB 757,” Peake wrote, referring to the legislation. “I sure don’t want us to pass any legislation that would cause him to be denied service or turned away from a restaurant or hotel, just because he is gay.”

He added: “But I also fully understand and support that he should not expect someone to ‘participate’ in his gay wedding, if that participation violated an individual’s religious conviction.”

Peake, who was once part of Deal’s legislative team, said in the email the idea “hits the heart of the matter of making sure there is no forced participation in a wedding ceremony, but also makes sure we don’t allow discrimination against folks like my brother.”

A spokesperson for Ralston told the AJC that the proposal from Peake and Beskin is one of several being floated. Deal made it clear last week that he wants no part of legislation that discriminates against LGBT people. Ralston has dropped similar hints.

The paring of Peake and Beskin makes for an interesting legislative duo.

Peake has a gay brother. In 2015, Peake was a co-sponsor of a “religious freedom” bill from Rep. Sam Teasley, a Marietta Republican who later dropped his legislation. During that debate, Peake made it clear that he didn't want his brother to face discrimination, yet he didn't support same-sex marriage. His brother Merwin, a corporate recruiter, testified against “religious freedom” legislation.

And while Allen Peake was comfortable lecturing LGBT people about the morality of straights-only marriage, he was busy with his account on cheating site Ashley Madison.

The Macon lawmaker is also the champion of medical marijuana legislation.

Beskin is likely feeling pressure from a Buckhead district that includes LGBT residents and the type of business leaders who oppose the legislation, along with a second campaign challenge from Bob Gibeling, the gay candidate who hopes to unseat her. Beskin tries to do right by LGBT issues but tends to miss the mark. Or just screws it up.

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