This Republican tired of Georgia GOP gay crusade

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A Republican appointee who runs the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity criticized the GOP-led movement to pass an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill, saying the effort has “gotten way out of whack.”

The comments from Melvin Everson (photo), executive director of the state commission, is another sign that the mean-spirited legislation – derided by critics as “a license to discriminate” – is causing a rift among Republicans in the state. Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed House Bill 757 on March 28, less than two weeks after GOP lawmakers easily passed it.

On Tuesday, Everson took aim at the legislation during comments to the Snellville Commerce Club, according to Georgia Pol:

After describing some typical cases his office deals with, Everson referenced one of the biggest issues in this year’s General Assembly, House Bill 757, the religious liberty bill. Much as Governor Deal did, Everson pointed out that Georgia is one of five states that does not have a human rights or public accommodations law that could protect against discrimination, and could allow everyone to be treated equally.

Referring to claims that the bill would allow discrimination against certain groups, Everson said, “I don’t have to like your behavior, but I can’t discriminate against you. I can’t. Not the God I serve. He teaches me to love everybody. We’ve gotten way out of whack with this.” He went on: “I hate it when anyone is discriminated against because I saw it when I was growing up.”

Everson's comments are another sign that the anti-gay “religious freedom” legislation is splintering the state GOP. Deal went against House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in vetoing the bill. When it passed on March 16, 11 Republicans voted against it. Georgia Republicans for the Future has been vocally protesting the legislation. And in 2015 when Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert tried to make a “religious freedom” bill less anti-gay, he failed and religious conservatives skewered him.

Deal appointed Everson to administer the commission in September 2011. The former state lawmaker – elected to the House in 2005 as the first black conservative in 150 years – is also a former Snellville City Council member and associate pastor of a Baptist Church. And as he told Georgia Pol, he knows discrimination because he's seen it up close.

He opened his talk by describing his early life in Wilcox County. “I know discrimination when I see it. I know racism when I see it,” Everson said. “I remember when Martin Luther King, 40 years ago yesterday, was assassinated. I didn’t have to read about it in the books. I lived that. I saw all of that.”

The state commission that Everson heads was briefly at the center of attention during debate over a civil rights bill that state Rep. Rich Golick, a Republican from Smyrna, proposed in January. The legislation banned discrimination in public accommodations – a first for Georgia – but left out LGBT people, though Golick said he was open to being more inclusive. The bill called for claims of discrimination to be filed with Everson's commission.

The commission currently handles complaints about discrimination in employment and housing. But sexual orientation and gender identity aren't protected classes under state or federal law – as the commission explains on its website.

Is discrimination based upon sexual orientation covered under your law?

At this time, there are no state or federal laws in the state of Georgia that protect employees from employment discrimination based upon ones sexual orientation.

When Golick's legislation received a hearing before a House subcommittee in February, Republicans used legislative tricks to kill an attempt to add LGBT protections to the measure. The effort was again cut short before the House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on Feb. 9. The legislation didn't receive a vote from the full House.

On Tuesday, LGBT and progressive activists called for lawmakers to pass an LGBT-inclusive civil rights bill. The push came during a rally at the State Capitol to thank Deal for vetoing House Bill 757.

Photo courtesy Patch


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