Georgia’s latest anti-gay bill is worse than you think

So apparently Wednesday is the favorite day to drop anti-gay bills. Last Wednesday it was state Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville) introducing both a Pastor’s Protection Act, which solidifies something that’s already part of the law although some see parts of it as being too broad, and a bill that would allow businesses to cite religious beliefs in refusing services for same-sex weddings.

And today? State. Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) dropped the bill he hinted at in December, and if reaction from LGBT pundits not only locally but across the country is any indication, it’s worse than people thought it would be. It’s a state version of a proposed federal measure called the First Amendment Defense Act, which would protect businesses and public employees who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

But Kirk’s bill is reportedly broader than that and would allow government employees to disregard federal law and deny services to legally married same-sex couples and their families.

The reaction from Georgia Equality executive director Jeff Graham:

“Sen. Kirk’s legislation flouts the rule of law, and I believe all Georgians understand how important it is that we acknowledge and follow the laws that govern our society. This legislation sets a dangerous precedent – we can’t pick and choose which laws we want to follow based on our personal beliefs. Government officials can’t deny services to legally married couples simply because they don’t approve of their marriage.

“This bill not only exposes married same-sex couples and their children in Georgia to harm, but it risks imperiling our state’s economy. The Metro Atlanta Chamber warned last month that bills opening up gay and transgender people to discrimination could harm our state’s economy by $1 billion dollars. And just today, a new report out of Indiana illustrated the damage done to the state’s reputation following the enactment of an overly broad exemptions bill there last year.

“This isn’t a bill that Georgia needs right now – it’s bad for our families and it’s bad for our businesses. It’s time for us to talk about how we can respect and protect all Georgians – including both people of faith and gay and transgender people.”

Constitutional scholar Anthony Kreis called the bill “RFRA on steroids” and had the following analysis on Twitter:

The Human Rights Campaign quickly jumped in with a statement of their own:

“Freedom of religion is important. That’s why it is already fully protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Fair-minded Georgians must not be fooled by Rep. Kirk’s despicable attempt to mask discrimination against LGBT Georgians and their families with religious freedom. This reckless legislation would have dangerous and far reaching consequences by allowing state government officials to discriminate against same-sex couples and their families.”

And Freedom For All Americans, a national group with a focus on LGBT employment discrimination, sounded off as well:

“Americans overwhelmingly agree that we must respect the rule of law,” said Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans. “The freedom of religion is one of our fundamental values, and no one is trying to change that. But if you are a government employee or a government contractor, you have to follow the law. That means providing services to all Georgians, no matter who they are. It’s a dangerous precedent to allow individuals or organizations to simply pick and choose which laws they want to follow.”

Can’t wait till next Wednesday.

UPDATE 6:03 p.m.: The Democratic Party of Georgia weighed in on the bill. Per party spokesman Michael Smith:

“Religious freedom is already guaranteed under the US Constitution. With this bill, Kirk’s anti-LGBTQ agenda is so transparent, I wouldn’t be surprised if he drafted it on cellophane. This dangerous bill doesn’t just target our community—it’s a broad, poorly written piece of legislation that could have dire ramifications for single parents, unmarried couples, women who are pregnant, and so many other Georgians.

“Instead of serving the best interests of his constituents and the rest of the state, Kirk would obviously rather play the politics of fear. Georgia families are counting on our elected leaders to find real solutions to grow the middle class and ensure that everyone has a fair shot. Democrats from both chambers have filed legislation to do just that—move our state forward. And now it’s clear that Kirk wants to move us backward.”

UPDATE 6:10 p.m.: LGBT legal organization Lambda Legal issued a statement on the bill. Per senior attorney Beth Littrell:

“We are extremely disappointed that Georgia’s antigay lawmakers are once again trying to allow religious discrimination in many areas of life for Georgia’s families, workers and others. We have seen this over and over – bills that say they are about protecting one thing when the real goal is to target and discriminate against gay and transgender people and people of minority faiths, with vast implications for everyone. FADA is divisive and dangerous. It encourages discrimination, invites litigation, and collides with fundamental rights protected under the US Constitution.

“As written, this bill will upend the balance between religious freedom and freedom from imposition of others’ religious beliefs. It provides special protections for people to justify discrimination. Lambda Legal urges the Georgia General Assembly to halt this bill before it causes damage and legal havoc between neighbors, employee and employer, community member and government worker, customer and company, and landlord and tenant. If enacted, FADA would extend religious rights to for-profit companies of all sizes – no matter what goods they make or services they sell, they would be treated much like churches. Freedom of religion is already strongly protected by federal and state law – this bill goes too far.”