Legislation Similar to AZ Anti-Gay Bill Makes It Way Through GA House

| by Jared Keever

There is currently a bill sitting on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk that has gained national attention because opponents say it allows business owners to unjustly discriminate against gay couples. Now a similar bill has been introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives, according to Mother Jones.

The bill, HB 1023, has been dubbed the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act. It is nearly identical to the legislation sitting on Brewer’s desk. If passed, it would allow any individual or for-profit company to ignore anti-discrimination laws already on the books in Georgia.

Georgia and Arizona are the largest states to have proposed such broad nullification laws. Similar bills in Kansas, Tennessee and South Dakota have been introduced and explicitly target same sex-couples. This new surge of such bills is thought to be a response to a New Mexico lawsuit in which a photographer was sued for refusing to work for a same-sex couple. 

The Georgia and Arizona bills do not specifically mention gays though. The language of those bills adopts a broader view of the rights of private businesses to exercise religious freedom. A recent article in The New Republic argues that under the broader rules, "a restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus, or Muslims.”

Opposition to the new bill is strong in Georgia. Local ABC affiliate WSB-TV reports that supporters of the gay and lesbian community packed the House in Atlanta on Monday during the first public discussion of HB 1023.

“If a waiter says that they [a couple] look gay to them, the waiter could refuse to serve them,” Georgia Equality’s Jeff Graham told WSB. “The business owner could refuse to have them into the establishment.”  

Proponents of the bill see it differently, arguing that the bill is about religion, not discrimination. 

State Sen. Josh McKoon, a Republican who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, said, “The only folks that have spoken against this legislation are people that want the government to be a tool to promote militant atheism.” 

The controversial bill is up for another hearing in the House Judiciary subcommittee on Wednesday.

Sources: Mother Jones, The New Republic, WSB-TV