Patrick Saunders, Editor of Georgia Voice

Patrick Saunders: SB 375 is the sound of religious conservatives flailing

I wanted to write about the paper’s eighth anniversary. I wanted to write about how we’ve expanded our print distribution in Kennesaw, Marietta, Acworth, Vinings, Sandy Springs, Roswell, South Atlanta and Doraville. But no, for the fifth year in a row — one for every year I’ve been at Georgia Voice — the state is wrapped up in a fight over a religious exemptions bill.

This year, it’s Senate Bill 375 — the so-called “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act.” It would allow adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs. The bill would also prohibit the Georgia Department of Human Services from taking “adverse action” against such agencies.

It sailed through committee and cleared the Senate last week and is now under consideration in the House. Familiar faces are voicing their support — state Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus), the face of HB 757, the religious exemptions bill that made Georgia a national punchline and was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal; and state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), the most familiar face in this fight for five years running, are a just a couple of them.

People are rallying against it voicing their displeasure online and to their elected officials, and the business community is joining to help again. It’s easy to get upset about blatant discrimination and disrespect like this, especially if you’re a person of faith who is appalled that someone is using religion as the main reason for this bill.

And being upset can be very useful, but it helps to remember where all of this stems from — total and abject fear. Fear over a changing world, fear over things the bill’s supporters not only don’t understand, but never even thought they would be asked to understand.

The fact that these bills started coming around when the pace of states’ same-sex marriage bans falling went into overdrive is not a coincidence. There was a rush by religious conservatives to reaffirm the pecking order, to reestablish just who’s boss here. They now go so far as to create this narrative that they are the ones being discriminated against, and that legislation like this is meant to protect their rights.

SB 375 is the sound of religious conservatives in Georgia flailing. Just remember that when you see legislation like this make it this far, when it seems like this is all out of your control.

If the bill makes it out of the House — which is a strong possibility despite House Speaker David Ralston’s vocal objections to such bills the last year and change — don’t assume a veto pen is coming out of Gov. Deal’s pocket. There is some major legislation that he wants passed this year that would allow him to end his two terms in office on a high point. SB 375 could definitely be used as a bargaining chip to get other legislation passed, unless the price the state will pay for passing it appears to get too high. And yes I mean the price when it comes to our economy, and that ever-present 50,000 jobs figure people keep throwing around in relation to Amazon picking us for HQ2.

But I also mean the price it will pay when it comes to the health and well-being of the kids in the adoption and foster care system who will have less access to willing potential parents, and to the health and well-being of those parents being told the state thinks they aren’t fit parents and to the health and well-being of the state’s LGBTQ community as a whole.

Let’s see what our state really thinks of us.