Post submitted by Elisabeth Rutledge, HRC state legislative team consultant
This week, the Georgia State Senate introduced SB 221, a Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Marty Harbin and cosponsored by nine of his fellow senators, seven of whom are committee chairmen. This show of support potentially indicates that the bill is positioned for quick action before the March 7 procedural deadline.
SB 221 could excuse any Georgian from any state or local law, policy or other government action that they claim “burdens” their exercise of religion. This exemption also includes beliefs that don’t stem from any established religion, which means that any individual religious belief has the potential to determine what state and local laws a person chooses to honor. This bill could open LGBTQ Georgians to discrimination in many aspects of their lives.
A similar bill was introduced and passed in Georgia in 2016 before being vetoed by former Governor Nathan Deal. The bill sparked outrage from Georgians, business leaders and individuals and groups involved with the burgeoning entertainment industry in Georgia.
As the LGBTQ community has made progress in numerous areas, we have seen a rise in bills, like SB 221, designed allow people who object to equal treatment of LGBTQ people to exempt themselves from the law.
RFRAs have been used as an excuse to violate the rights of others. Ramifications of RFRAs include discrimination in public health, criminal justice, child welfare, undermining of non-discrimination laws and marriage-related refusal of service in places of public accommodation.
This year, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has said he will sign a RFRA bill if passed if it is a copy of the federal legislation. We’ve seen the impact of passing discriminatory legislation in North Carolina and across the country. These measures will not only discriminate against Georgians, but open the state to extensive litigation and force taxpayers to pay the cost of discrimination.
HRC will continue working with our coalition partners, like Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, to oppose discriminatory legislation that targets LGBTQ Georgians.