Will this gay-friendly Republican run for governor?

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A former U.S. Attorney in Georgia who criticized a “religious freedom” bill and warned of its anti-LGBT impact might join a Republican race for governor already crowded with anti-gay candidates.

And that would allow Joe Whitley – a U.S. Attorney for two Republican presidents and a top Homeland Security official for a third – to stand out in a field of GOP candidates who have backed “religious freedom” bills and other anti-LGBT efforts.

The AJC reported on Monday that Whitley, an attorney in private practice with Baker Donelson, is considering a run for governor in 2018. 

We’re picking up reliable word that former federal prosecutor Joe Whitley, who has never held elected office before, is giving some thought to running for governor of Georgia in 2018.

Whitley would be joining what’s expected to be a very crowded field on the Republican side. Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp are only a few of the names likely to be on the GOP primary ballot.

Whitley’s federal service would give him access to funding sources outside the state, which would be essential when rivals have solid state Capitol connections.

And Whitley could be some comfort to LGBT activists concerned that once voters replace Gov. Nathan Deal – who vetoed an anti-gay “religious freedom” bill in March – the state's next governor won't stand in the way of conservative Republican lawmakers bent on targeting LGBT equality.

The bill that Deal vetoed was the same House Bill 757 that Whitley picked apart in a memo to state Republican leaders in February. Georgia Equality, the statewide LGBT group, hired Whitley to analyze the legislation. Just like it hired former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers to do the same a year earlier. What Whitley found is that the legislation was as bad as LGBT and progressive critics thought it was – and not just for LGBT folks.

After surveying this piece of legislation, I note that in the name of tolerance, this legislation likely will cause more in the way of intolerance for those whose private marital and family relationships may be disfavored by a particular faith. Georgia does not need to enact a law such as this to maintain the freedom of religion or protect deeply held religious beliefs, which the Constitution and Bill of Rights already protect.

Moreover, no person should have religious beliefs imposed on them without their consent. While I am sympathetic to the fact that a number of my fellow citizens have been led to believe that their personal beliefs are unprotected absent such legislation, as I have shown, this is simply not the case. Instead, passage of the Act likely would lead to real harm to many people, as well as to our State and its reputation.

Just what would the broad language of the bill permit? Whitley tackled that too.

• A restaurant could refuse service to an interracial couple.

• A sales clerk could refuse to attend a to single mother.

• A business could refuse to hire a single woman living with her opposite-sex partner.

• A hospital could deny a man the right to visit a dying spouse.

• A mobile phone operator could refuse to sell a “family plan” to a same-sex couple.

• A hotel could refuse to make its ballrooms available for Jewish weddings.

Whitley's memo isn't his only foray into LGBT issues. In 2011, Whitley was in charge of a 10-person team from law firm Greenberg Traurig that investigated Atlanta police and city officials in the wake of their raid of the Atlanta Eagle. The 343-page report – which cost the city $1.2 million – determined that the 2009 raid of the gay bar was an illegal botched mess.

So Whitley as a Republican candidate for governor – likely LGBT friendly and certainly versed in gay issues – would stand above a crowded field that includes Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, U.S. Rep. Tom Price and former U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland.

Cagle can't stop lying on his way to supporting anti-gay legislation. Price and Westmoreland are no slouches either when it comes to opposing LGBT equality.

We reached out to Whitley and will update the post if he responds.

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