Former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers spoke out strongly against “religious freedom” bills in a press conference today, calling them a “disaster” and saying that they will do nothing but keep people from moving to Georgia.
“Above all, this bill in my judgment is nothing but an excuse to discriminate,” he said. “And I would ask you this: why is the bill needed if not for the purpose of discriminate? To tell a gay couple you can’t have a marriage license, or to tell an interfaith couple you can’t have this apartment. Why else do you need it?”
Bowers also expressed concern about younger gay people who are contemplating moving to Georgia.
“I think it would send a signal to a lot of bright young people that this is not the place to come,” he said. “This is a place that is closing its mind and its doors to bright young people who might otherwise come here because we don’t necessarily want gay people to come to Georgia. And there are a lot of bright gay people that we need to come here and work here.”
Georgia Equality hired Bowers to write his legal opinion of the bills, a surprising move considering the former attorney general’s history. Bowers was at the center of two of the state’s biggest LGBT rights cases, successfully upholding anti-sodomy laws and defending himself against Robin Shahar, whose job offer was rescinded by Bowers after he learned she was a lesbian. Shahar is now Mayor Kasim Reed’s LGBT adviser.
Bowers said today that his views on LGBT issues have changed over the years, but wouldn’t specify exactly how they have changed. And he said he would leave others to judge him on the decisions he made in those cases. He did say the factors that led to his change in opinion.
“Having eight grandchildren. Getting older. Losing a step or two. Trying more cases. Having a bunch of partners that have impacted on me. Learning more. Being married a lot longer, 52 years now. All of those things,” he said. “The things that change people. I can’t tell you all that, I don’t know. But I know I’ve changed.”
Bowers said he has not heard from Rep. Sam Teasley or Sen. Josh McKoon, authors of the bills, and that he challenged them or anyone else who disagrees with him.
“They can say anything they want to. All I can tell you on this: the analysis we did on this is primarily a legal one. And I defy any one of them that wants to take us on to show me how this bill does not discriminate, number one,” Bowers said. “Number two, how this bill does not create all kinds of opportunities for folks to say, wait a minute, the law doesn’t apply to me, and I’m going to get out of it because of my religious belief. And three that this isn’t going to create absolute chaos.”
He also agreed with concerns that the bills would open the doors to child abuse, saying, “This allows every parent to say, ‘I’m going to beat the hell out of my kid in the name of religious freedom.’ We don’t need that.”
Bowers said he has not been asked to appear before a House or Senate committee on the bills but that he would do so if requested.