Georgia Governor Vetoes North Carolina-Style “Religious Liberty” Bill

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.

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On Monday morning, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced that he will veto HB757, an explicitly anti-gay “religious liberty” bill vehemently opposed by Georgia’s business community. The measure would have allowed taxpayer-funded government agencies—including adoption agencies, homeless shelters, and drug counseling centers—to refuse service to gay individuals and same-sex couples. It also contained provisions undermining local LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances, allowing hospitals to refuse treatment to LGBT people, and legalizing anti-LGBT employment discrimination.

Deal’s veto arrives on the heels of a nationwide outcry against the bill. Businesses and corporations, from Apple and Delta to the NCAA and the NFL, had pressured the governor to reject the measure. At least one company already planned to leave the state on account of the legislation. But far-right Republicans in the Georgia legislature rammed the bill through nonetheless, alienating moderates and potential allies by openly acknowledging the bill’s discriminatory intent.

In his Monday address, Deal sent a very clear message to the legislature’s anti-LGBT agitators: Your prejudice does not belong in our state’s laws. “HB757 doesn’t reflect the character of our state or the character of our people,” Deal declared, explaining that the law is also completely unnecessary: “We do not have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia.” Denouncing the hypocrisy of the bill’s advocates, Deal noted wryly, “I find it ironic that some in the religious community look to government to secure religious rights.” He also explained that “it’s difficult to legislate on something that’s best left to the First Amendment”—music to the ears of civil libertarians, who have long pointed out that the Free Exercise Clause already guarantees religious liberty for all.

“This is about the character of our state and our people,” Deal concluded. “Georgia is a welcoming state full of kind and generous people.” By vetoing HB757, Deal will help to maintain those values of tolerance.

Still, trouble looms ahead. The legislature passed HB757 by an overwhelming majority; unless some lawmakers switch sides, legislators may yet override Deal’s veto. Perhaps the outcry in response to North Carolina’s similarly anti-LGBT law will persuade some lawmakers to back off the measure; perhaps they will only dig in their heels. Either way, Monday was, at the very least, a huge symbolic victory for a community that desperately needed a win—and a reminder that not every red state is governed by outspoken opponents of basic equality.