The battle over Georgia’s so-called “religious freedom” bills began relatively quietly, but the introduction of a surprise opponent to the anti-LGBT bills and a jagged momentum shift back and forth over the final weeks of the session made for national headlines. Relive the punches and counter-punches of the fight here.
Dec. 30 Rep. Sam Teasley (R-Macon) pre-files House Bill 29, his version of the “religious freedom” bill.
Jan. 12 The 2015 Georgia legislative session begins.
Feb. 4 Rep. Teasley files House Bill 218, an alternate version of his bill that strips language that appeared to broaden parental rights. The move is made to appease critics who said the previous bill opened up the door to allow child abuse by parents who cite their religious beliefs. No language is added protecting against LGBT discrimination.
Feb. 19 The day after McKoon introduces SB 129, it’s heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which he is the chairman. McKoon rules an anti-discrimination amendment proposed by state Sen. Bill Cowsert, the Republican vice chair of the committee, as out of order. Cowsert criticizes McKoon for not giving committee members enough time to prepare amendments. The bill is tabled, making for a temporary setback for McKoon.
Feb. 21 In the first major bombshell of this year’s “religious freedom” bill fight, Georgia Equality announces that they have hired Republican former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers to give his legal analysis of the bills. Bowers was on the opposite side of two of the state’s biggest LGBT rights cases in Georgia history. Bowers slams the bills, calling them a “disaster” and “nothing but an excuse to discriminate.”
March 2 SB 129 reappears in the Senate Judiciary Committee at the last minute and is taken off the table and approved for passage out of committee. No Democrats were present to vote on it and the vote occurred while state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), who opposes the bill, was in the bathroom. McKoon’s bill is back on track.
March 5 SB 129 easily passes in the Senate by a vote of 37 to 15 and moves over to the House for consideration. McKoon’s bill continues its momentum towards final passage.
March 11 State Rep. David Ralston, a former state Senator and now Speaker of the House, was interviewed on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s legislative show, “Lawmakers.” He said he is not yet convinced SB 129 is needed. “My question is, and the questions I’ve asked, is if a constitutional guarantee is not sufficient than what is this bill, this statute, going to do that our constitution doesn’t do?” he told host Bill Nigut.
March 25 The subcommittee hearing resumes and SB 129 passes out of committee, moving it on to a hearing before the full House Judiciary Committee. It’s one step away from a House floor vote and McKoon regains momentum.
March 26 After two hours of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican from Brookhaven, introduces an amendment adding language preventing discrimination into the bill, and it surprisingly passes. The bill is tabled, dealing a major blow to SB 129 with just days left in the legislative session. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence signs Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), into law. McKoon has compared Indiana’s law to his proposed legislation. Indiana’s new law does not contain language preventing discrimination.
March 27 State Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) calls another meeting of the House Judiciary Committee to occur on March 30, breathing temporary life into the bill. National backlash erupts against Indiana and Gov. Pence, with corporation, politicians and more saying the bill does nothing more than discriminate against LGBT people.
March 28 Thousands of opponents of Indiana Senate Bill 101gather on the lawn of the Indiana State House to rally against the new law.
March 29 On the eve of the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Willard cancels it without comment, taking McKoon by surprise. The move comes amid reports that the Republicans who voted for the anti-discrimination amendment in the previous hearing refused to change their vote. The backlash against Indiana, including calls for boycotts of the state, continue to make national headlines.
March 30 Facing incredible backlash from major corporations, national sports organizations, and thousands of local activists, the Indiana Republican leadership announces they are working on language to a new state bill that would ensure the “religious freedom” bill does not discriminate against gays and lesbians. Democrats, however, want a full repeal of the law.
March 31 Georgia Unites Against Discrimination holds a rally and march in opposition to the bill. Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed releases a statement shortly afterward denouncing the bill. Gov. Pence pledges to “fix” Indiana’s “religious freedom” bill to ensure it does not discriminate against gays and lesbians.