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Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said he plans to veto the controversial religious liberty bill which critics contend is anti-gay legislation.
Gov. Deal said the bill doesn’t reflect “the character of our state and the character of our people,” in prepared remarks he gave on Monday. “Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people,” he said.
Deal said stage legislators should leave freedom of speech and freedom of religion to the U.S. Constitution.
“Their efforts to purge this bill of any possibility that it would allow or encourage discrimination illustrates how difficult it is to legislate something that is best left to the broad protections of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” said the governor.
Deal said he did not have problems with the “Pastor Protection Act” that said clergy of any faith would not be forced to perform religious ceremonies or acts contrary to their faith. However, he said he had problems with the other versions of the bill which “contained language that could give rise to state-sanctioned discrimination.”
HB 757 would have allowed religious organizations to deny services to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief.” The bill, entitled the Free Exercise Protection Act, received criticism from major Hollywood studios, who said it allowed for discrimination against LGBTQ people.
“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives,” said Deal. He said that even though the discrimination “may be unintentional” it is “too great a risk to take.”
He said that the bill has generated more “intense” feelings than most legislation.
“Some of those in the religious community who support this bill have resorted to insults that question my moral convictions and my character,” said Deal. “Some within the business community who oppose this bill have resorted to threats of withdrawing jobs from our state. I do not respond well to insults or threats. The people of Georgia deserve a leader who will made sound judgments based on solid reasons that are not inflamed by emotion.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 28, 2016
Georgia offers up to 30 percent tax incentives for TV and film productions and its entertainment industry has been growing steadily. From July 1, 2014 to June 20, 2015 there were 248 feature film and television productions in the state, generating an economic impact of $6 billion.
Deal, who is regarded as a pro-business governor, faced increasing pressure from the Hollywood community and major corporations who opposed the bill.
Disney, Netflix, The Weinstein Company threatened to boycott Georgia if the bill was signed and Viacom, Time Warner, Fox, Sony, MGM, CBS, Comcast/NBC Universal and many other studios spoke out against the bill. The National Football League said the measure threatened to affect Atlanta’s bid for the Super Bowl. LGBTQ rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD also decried the bill as anti-gay legislation.
On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the contents of an email where Deal’s chief-of-staff revealed Georgia had been “dropped from contention from two pending economic projects” prior to a decision being made on the bill. The projects cited HB 757 as the reason they were removing the state from consideration.
After Deal announced his plans to veto the measure, he received praise from opponents of the bill.
House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams released a statement about Deal’s decision. “I applaud Governor Deal for vetoing this flawed and dangerous legislation,” said Abrams. “H.B. 757 would have enshrined discrimination in our state’s laws, to devastating effect on families and businesses in Georgia. Restricting the civil rights of any community does not reflect our values as Georgians, and I am encouraged that this bill will not become law.”
The Human Rights Campaign, which had called on Hollywood to act against the legislation, also praised the pledged veto.
“Our message to Governor Nathan Deal was loud and clear: this deplorable legislation was bad for his constituents, bad for business, and bad for Georgia’s future,” said HRC president Chad Griffin. “Today, Governor Deal heard the voices of Georgians, civil rights organizations, as well as the many leaders in the entertainment industry and private sector who condemned this attack on the fundamental rights of LGBT people, and he has set an example for other elected officials to follow. Discrimination and intolerance have no place in the United States of America, and we hope North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and the North Carolina General Assembly are paying close attention to what has transpired in Georgia. They must undo their disgraceful attack on LGBT people in the state’s upcoming legislative session.”
“I am grateful to Governor Deal, for reaffirming ‘Georgia is a welcoming state’ and his decision veto HB 757,” Georgia state representative Keisha Waites told THR. “I believe Gov. Deal has demonstrated tremendous leadership and made the right decision for our time and history will reflect that. My colleagues and I supported the original version of HB 757 which simply made clear no pastor could be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. Therefore, I believed the original bill’s language was a thoughtful balance that provided protections for people of faith while not promoting discrimination. That is why my colleagues and I have insisted throughout this entire debate that any measure we passed must include clear anti-discriminatory language. I do not believe, that the final version of HB 757 passed met that test.”
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