Post submitted by Ianthe Metzger, former HRC Deputy Press Secretary

HRC and Georgia Equality, the statewide LGBT advocacy organization, called on House Leadership and Gov. Nathan Deal to put a stop to the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia,” H.B. 757. The bill, which just passed the Georgia Senate by a vote of 38 - 14 goes far beyond protecting the right to practice one’s religion and would instead put LGBT people couples, single parents, and unmarried couples at risk for discrimination.

"H.B. 757 is a shameful and irresponsible bill that would create broad loopholes and put LGBT Georgians in real danger of discrimination,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “The freedom to practice one’s religion is a core American value, and that’s exactly why it’s protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That's why it's so disingenuous to claim H.B. 757 is anything other than an attempt to license discrimination. House leadership should listen to the business and religious community leaders who have opposed this bill because of what it truly is: an unacceptable attack on LGBT people, single parents and unmarried couples."

“It’s outrageous that Senate leaders have not adhered to the standard practice of vetting legislation through traditional committee hearings with appropriate notice and public debate. Instead they have resorted to legislative shenanigans such as canceling hearings, moving hearing times throughout the day and using arcane legislative rules to limit debate and restrict democratic principles,” said Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality. “It’s clear that Senate leadership knows their actions will hurt families and Georgia's economy. They are hoping that their legislative shell-game will divert attention from their true intent, which is to pander to religious extremists in an effort to win votes in the upcoming primary elections.”

The Senate’s vote on H.B. 757 comes one day after new, nonpartisan polling from Public Religion Research Institute found that a majority of Georgians support protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing and access to public services by an overwhelming 66-28 margin.  Georgia is one of 33 states that lack explicit LGBT non-discrimination protections. H.B. 757 heads in the opposite direction and is a despicable attempt by anti-equality activists to give explicit cover to taxpayer funded discrimination. No religious organization or clergy is required to sanction or perform same-sex marriage under any federal or state law.

While falsely framed as prohibiting the state government from making funding or tax status decisions based on an organization’s views on marriage that are driven by religious belief, in reality it opens the door to discrimination against LGBT couples, single parents, and unmarried couples. State-contracted counselors could refuse to provide services to single mothers. Taxpayer funded adoption and foster care agencies could refuse to place children in desperate need of loving and caring homes with LGBT couples. State-funded homeless shelters could turn away unwed couples and their families. Government employees could refuse to file tax forms for same-sex couples or provide state benefits to single mothers.

Working to stop such reckless and discriminatory legislation, HRC is proud to be fighting alongside local advocates in Georgia Unites Against Discrimination – a joint project of HRC and Georgia Equality dedicated to protecting LGBT Georgians from discrimination and ensuring that individuals and businesses aren’t able to use religious beliefs as an excuse to harm others.

Filed under: 2016 State Legislature

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