Under pressure from both LGBTQ organizations and local corporations, on Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced his decision to veto a bill that many say would legalize discrimination against those in the LGBTQ community in Georgia.
“The Free Exercise Protection Act,” also known as House Bill 757, would have given faith-based organizations in Georgia the option to deny services and jobs to LGBTQ individuals. Proponents of the bill say it was intended to protect business owners from state action for acting on their religious beliefs.
The passing of the bill by both legislative houses in Georgia last week garnered instant backlash from the public, as well as corporations and the entertainment industry. Some companies went so far as to say they would pull business out of the state if the measure were signed into law.
In announcing his decision to veto the legislation, Deal said, “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.”
Many conservative supporters of the bill criticized Deal for giving into pressure from the left. However, Deal said that his decision was not due to pressure from either side — neither the faith-based community nor the business community — but that his choice was “about the character of our state and the character of our people.”
“Georgia is a welcoming state,” he said. “It is full of loving, kind, and generous people. … I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason I will veto House Bill 757.”
Deal’s decision has been praised by many in the corporate sector, including Disney — which said it would stop filming in the state should the legislation pass — and the NFL, which said the bill could jeopardize Atlanta’s bid for the Super Bowl. Other companies such as Apple, Time Warner, and Intel also lauded Deal’s decision.
More than a dozen states have approved similar laws in the past year, with North Carolina becoming the most recent state to pass such legislation last week; the measure was passed by North Carolina lawmakers and signed into law the same day by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
The legislation, originally introduced to bar transgender people from using public bathrooms that don’t correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth, also forbids municipalities in North Carolina from enacting LGBTQ civil rights protections that are inconsistent with state protections. No civil rights protections currently exist at the state level.
In a statement released Tuesday, President of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Archie W. Ervin, PhD, expressed support for Deal and frustration over McCrory’s decision to sign a similar bill.
“[NADOHE] supports Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s principled decision to not sign a proposed ‘religious liberty’ bill into law and applauds his rationale for his decision,” the statement says. “In stark contrast, NADOHE is greatly disappointed by the decision of the governor of North Carolina to sign a bill into law that ends protections against discrimination for North Carolina’s LGBTQ citizens, and this law is inconsistent with our values of equity and inclusion.”
Similar to the legislation proposed in Georgia, the passage of this bill has led to public outcry. And, on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), along with several advocacy organizations, announced that it filed a federal lawsuit against the state in response to the controversial law, which the ACLU says discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community.
The lawsuit reads: “Lawmakers made no attempt to cloak their actions in a veneer of neutrality, instead openly and virulently attacking transgender people, who were falsely portrayed as predatory and dangerous to others.”