More and more signs are pointing to an unlikely but powerful voice stepping in to ensure that any future “religious freedom” bill in Georgia includes an anti-discrimination clause. That voice is Gov. Nathan Deal, who ran one of the most anti-LGBT campaigns in Georgia history in his 2010 gubernatorial bid and hasn’t done the community any favors since assuming office in January 2011.
Well, crazier things have happened.
In an interview with the the AJC’s Greg Bluestein following the end of the legislative session and failure of state Sen. Josh McKoon’s (R-Columbus) SB 129, Deal had two suggestions: stick to the language of the federal RFRA signed in 1993 and include an anti-discrimination clause, calling the latter “the most important” addition.
“And that is a delicate thing to do,” he told the AJC. “There’s been so much hyperbole. It’s hard to identify what can you say without saying too much, what can you say without saying too little, and what will people read into either version.”
Deal surely wants to avoid the embarrassment and controversy that Gov. Mike Pence and the state of Indiana experienced after passing their own RFRA with no anti-discrimination protections. Those protections were later added to the law (as well as to a similarly controversial law in Arkansas) but some progressive and LGBT groups say it’s not enough.
Brian Robinson, Gov. Deal’s spokesman, elaborated on Deal’s plans to get involved in the issue in an appearance on GPB’s “Political Rewind” last Friday.
“The governor’s feeling is that people of faith should have protection. They should not be fired or sued because of holding to their religious convictions. But he also doesn’t want to see a message sent out to the rest of the country that Georgia tolerates discrimination against its citizens or against citizens of this state,” he told host Bill Nigut and the panel.
Robinson also called the legislation “a brand issue” and referenced the influx of film and TV productions in the state as an example of what could be at stake.
“It is a fine needle to thread, and the governor will get it threaded….When it comes back, and it’s cooled down, we’re going to get it done,” he said. “We’re going to perfect the legislation.”