Georgia Republicans Don’t Want Anything to Do With Their State’s “Religious Liberty” Bill

Georgia Sen. Josh McKoon

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Last time we checked in on Georgia’s anti-gay “religious freedom” measure, the Georgia GOP was in a civil war. Moderate Republicans were hesitant to push the bill—and, if forced to, they wanted to add a provision that would prevent the measure from overriding LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances in cities that have them. Conservative Republicans, meanwhile, were eager to pass the bill as originally written. One legislator, Sen. Josh McKoon, disparaged the LGBT nondiscrimination carve-out, fuming that it “would completely undercut the purpose of the bill.”

Although McKoon forced the bill through a Senate committee while a Democratic opponent was in the bathroom, a House committee ultimately tabled it. Now it’s back, alongside a similar bill that would allow public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (The bill might also let public employees refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage on a death certificate; its sponsor just isn’t sure yet.)

This time, however, there’s even less support for the “religious liberty” measure—even from the power broker Republicans who might be expected to champion it. Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “if the House does pass it, I hope it includes that anti-discrimination clause to make sure we are protection [sic] people’s religious freedoms but not using that as a shield.” Republican Rep. Beth Beskin told the Journal-Constitution that the House shouldn’t consider the bill unless it came with LGBT protections, noting that her constituents believe the original version was discriminatory. And Rep. Brett Harrell, another Republican, simply declared that the bill should never reach the House floor.

“I don’t doubt for a moment the sincerity of the authors or those that support it,” Harrell said. “I don’t doubt that the black and white words on the paper will do what supporters suggest. [But] I also would prefer it not come to the House floor for a vote.”

Why the terse opposition to a bill, which just last year seemed poised to coast into law? Two theories. First, legislators don’t want to turn their state into the next Indiana by passing a measure that values Christian business owners’ right to discriminate over LGBT people’s right to live free of discrimination. Second, and relatedly, an array of massive Georgia-based corporations (Delta, Coca-Cola, Home Depot) lined up against the bill, creating cognitive dissonance for business-minded moderates and turning them against it.

There is, of course, a chance that a McKoon protégé in the house could wait for a Democrat to go to the bathroom, then, McKoon-style, rush the bill through committee. But it looks increasingly unlikely. The more McKoon rails against “very large multinational corporations” with “different values” and “cultural norms” protesting the bill, the more obvious his obsessive prejudice becomes. McKoon’s rant wasn’t even a dog whistle; it was just a proclamation that Southern Christians should use the levers of government power to disfavor those who don’t share their beliefs. That’s an ugly view of the legislative process, and McKoon’s centrist colleagues deserve great credit for disavowing it.