Deal will veto ‘religious liberty’ bill

Governor had been under heavy pressure from faith community to approve controversial measure and business leaders to reject it

Gov. Nathan Deal will veto House Bill 757, a controversial “religious liberty” proposal approved by the General Assembly that LGBT advocates said would allow people to discriminate based on their religious views. 

Speaking with reporters, Deal said the legislation did not align with Georgia’s values. He said he would have signed the Pastor Protection Act, which would have protected religious leaders from performing same-sex marriages — the First Amendment already covers that — and was backed by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge.  

“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives,” Deal said. “Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business-friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. This is about the character of our State and the character of its people.” 

He added: “Georgia is a welcoming state filled with warm, friendly and loving people. Our cities and countryside are populated with people who worship God in a myriad of ways and in very diverse settings. Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.” (Here are Deal’s complete remarks.)

After the legislation passed, Deal had been under heavy pressure from both the faith community to sign the bill and industry leaders to veto it. Hollywood filmmakers threatened to not shoot productions in the state. Two economic development projects reportedly passed over Georgia because of the controversy. Others threatened to close shop and move elsewhere. The governor took issue with the tactics used by some members of both sides of the debate, saying he does not “respond very well to threats.” 

Deal took no questions from reporters after concluding his remarks. 

In a statement, Ralston said he had shared Deal’s concern and the House worked to make sure its “religious liberty” measure “must not only protect the free exercise of religion and faith-based organizations, but also had to include clear anti-discriminatory language.” Ralston said he thinks the version that passed met that “test.”

Ralson said “it is regrettable that the merits of this measure have been ignored in the days since its passage by critics who had not taken the time to read the bill or understand the legal issues involved.”

“I take pride in the leadership role the House played in making Georgia the number one state in which to do business,” he added. “We all aspire to a Georgia which is welcoming, hospitable and growing. At the same time, we have a duty to the Georgians we serve — the Georgians who live, work, play and worship here — to listen to their concerns.” 

Simone Bell, the Southern Regional director of Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal advocacy group and member of Georgia Unites, the large coalition that fought the measure, commended Deal. She said the group feels “very fortunate that LGBT people and people with living with HIV were spared the terrible consequences of HB 757.”

“In the end, Governor Deal did not allow hate and fear-mongering to dictate state policy; instead he chose to act reasonably and with compassion and demonstrated that equality is a Georgia value,” Bell said. He listened to the business community, hundreds of ministers, and tens of thousands of Georgians who opposed the bill. Freedom of religion does not give any of us permission to discriminate against others.”

Some conservative lawmakers have threatened to call for a special session to attempt to override a veto of the “religious liberty” legislation. State Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, who’s also running for Congress, is one of the first out of the gate to do so.

This is a developing story. Expect more updates.

More photos from the press conference after the break