Senator Greg Kirk of Americus held a press conference on Tuesday calling on Governor Deal to sign House Bill 757, the Free Exercise Protection Act. The senator, who is the author of the Georgia version of the First Amendment Defense Act and is the sponsor of the Free Excersise bill in the Senate, cited printed reports covering the effects of marriage equality, produced the results of a poll he took to measure the opinions of Georgians about the bill, and explained how the final bill addressed concerns about the earlier version.
Senator Kirk cited several publications he had read concerning the possible effects of same sex marriage, including a study by the Witherspoon Institute that listed how changes in free speech laws, parental rights in education, and other portions of civic life changed following the 2002 legalization of same-sex civil marriage in Canada. Kirk also described an article in Western Journalism written just before the Supreme Court decision last June legalizing marriage equality that predicted unintended consequences following legalization:
The same people who first claimed only to want tolerance of their behavior will allow no toleration for other views. Will a physician be forced to perform an artificial insemination for a lesbian couple? Will a lawyer be forced to take a case defending gay marriage? Lawyers are already losing their “traditional prerogative to exercise absolute discretion in the selection of clients….” Provisions designed to advance the homosexual agenda have been incorporated into many state legal ethics codes.
Senator Kirk announced the results of a statewide poll of 720 Georgians by Rosetta Stone Communications conducted on March 21st. The poll found that 55.6% of the respondents are neutral on the portion of the Free Exercise Protection Act that contains First Amendment Protection Act provisions. 61.3% of Georgians support traditional marriage, while 27.1% support same sex marriage, and another 11.3% have no opinion.
When asked if government or employers should not be able to discriminate against those who hold traditional views of marriage, 44.7% agreed, while 29.1% were neutral, and 26.2% opposed. 43.1% of the survey responsents were Republican, 33.9% were Democrats, and 20.2% were independents. The survey had a 3.7% Margin of error.
The senator explained how the he had listened to criticism of the First Amendment Defense Act and modified several provisions in the original bill to assuage concerns, including making it clear that probate judges couldn’t use the law to deny someone a marriage license, limiting the definition of a religious organization to 501-C3 nonprofits, and tightening the definition of a sincerely held religious belief to make it less ambiguous, all in an effort to ensure the bill was non-discriminatory. Despite these efforts, however, at least one analysis of the final measure by former U.S. Prosecutor found reason to believe that the bill could enable discrimination.
Senator Kirk wrapped up his presser with a plea to Governor Deal to sign the measure:
It’s time for our governor to step forward and sign the bill that the people of Georgia clearly want. THe bill has been vetted thoroughly through both chambers of the General Assembly. I appreciate the fact that our governor has taken a slow and methodical view of the bill before he signs it. But in the end, I’m sure that he’ll find that this is the best bill to protect everyone in Georgia.
Will our state and nation going forward be a state and nation that is intolerant of those that express a sincerely held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, and will expression of that belief in the workplace or marketplace lead to sanctions by local state or federal governments in the name of tolerance? I say no. That’s not the America that I grew up in, and by the governor signing this bill into law, it preserves freedom. Georgia is not a state of intolerance.