Senator Greg Kirk of Americus introduced the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia at a Capitol Hill press conference this afternoon, saying he is introducing the legislation in order to heal the divides in the Peach State over the issue of same sex marriage. Kirk said he modeled his legislation on a similar federal bill that has been co-sponsored by every Republican member of the Georgia congressional delegation, including both Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue.
Senator Kirk says the purpose of the bill is to protect those who believe in the traditional definition of marriage. He stated that the measure’s motto is “Live and Let Live.” According to Kirk, “Faith based organizations that believe in the long held definition of marriage should have the right to operate freely without fear of persecution or discrimination. One group’s access to a right does not diminish the rights of another.”
The legislation specifically seeks not to challenge or alter the June 2015 decision by the Supreme Court that legalized marriage equality in the United States. It does not excuse a government official from performing his or her duty to issue documents, including marriage licenses to gay people. Instead, it offers protection to private individuals and organizations that believe in traditional marriage by preventing governmental discrimination against adoption agencies, youth programs, private schools and other nonprofits whose sponsoring churches hold to the traditional view of marriage.
The bill is designed to protect the tax exempt status of charitable organizations, charitable contribution deductions, government grants and contracts, scholarships, accreditations and more.
However, many in the LGBT community are concerned that the bill will indeed allow discrimination against gay individuals. Specifically, they are concerned that a provision in the bill will override ordinances in cities like Atlanta that prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians. In his press conference, Kirk said,
The bill will not allow the government to discriminate against [a] business because of their belief in traditional marriage.
Based on that quote, it can be interpreted that the bill does override local anti-discrimination ordinances.
Earlier in the afternoon, Governor Deal told reporters that it was too early to offer an explicit opinion on the merits of the several bills in the legislature dealing with religious liberty. He did, however, appear to be sympathetic to the interests of religious believers while wanting to ensure Georgia does not foster discrimination. Deal said,
I understand that many in our religious community, and we are still, of course in the bible belt, have real concerns about what they see as an encroachment on their religious beliefs, and their patterns of conduct, their businesses, et cetera. So it’s an understandable issue from their point of view. And I think we have to be accommodating to their views as much as possible, without at the same time breeding a situation that Georgia is going to be regarded as a state that allows discrimination. I do not see any reason for us to have to do that.
As of 4 PM, Senator Kirk had not dropped his bill in the Senate hopper. Once the final language of the bill is known, we will have further analysis.