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Georgia Tries to Get in on the 'License-to Discriminate'-Against-Gays Action

Despite likely defeat, Georgia lawmakers try for new-fangled Jim Crow law.
 
 
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With all eyes on Arizona in the days since its legislature passed its blatantly discriminatory Anti-Gay Bill, and the public awaits Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision to sign or veto it, Georgia lawmakers want to get in on the new Jim Crow-law trend. A new bill that has found fast footing and is moving quickly through the Georgia House of Representatives would allow business owners who personally believe homosexuality to be a punishable sin to openly discriminate against gay citizens.

As Mother Jones reports, the proposed bill, dubbed the Preservation of Religious Freedoms Act, would allow individuals and companies to be legally protected if their acts of discrimination are proven to be exercises in religious freedom—even though the law flies in the face of Georgia laws protecting civil rights statewide. In the nation’s capital, Atlanta, for instance, the LGBT community is protected in cases of potential housing discrimination, employer discrimination, or any accommodations made to the public at large. In one fell swoop, the Preservation of Religious Freedoms Act seeks to undo that city’s protections.

The bill is very similar to legislation passed in Arizona early last week, which gives similar power to shop owners and business in the state under the guise of preserving religious rights. The bill has received widespread criticism from allies of the LGBT community country-wide, and some state lawmakers who voted for the bill have already publically renounced their own vote. Critics have pointed out that the legislation has made Arizona a national laughingstock. Gov. Jan Brewer is under pressure from all corners to veto it. 

The Georgia bill was introduced early last week and has since been backed by six state representatives, including some Democrats, and is just the latest in a string of intense new legislation drafted largely in response to a lawsuit filed in New Mexico when a photographer refused to work the wedding of a gay couple in 2013. The news set off a firestorm of questions regarding the preservation of religious vs. civil rights in a country still in the process of “normalizing” the notion of LGBT life.

Similar bills have since been passed in Tennessee, Kansas, and South Dakota, but unlike those states’ texts meant to target same-sex couples explicitly, the broadness of the Georgia (and Arizona) bill give them a larger scope with which to act, namely the ability to define religious freedoms with relative subjectivity. Legal experts have made a point of noting that these bills sweeping language could result into wider discrimination. Eric Sasson of The New Republic noted that under the wording of the Arizona Bill, "a restaurateur could deny service to an out-of-wedlock mother, a cop could refuse to intervene in a domestic dispute if his religion allows for husbands beating their wives, and a hotel chain could refuse to rent rooms to Jews, Hindus, or Muslims."

For many, the legislation also signals a strange bit of conservative hubris, meant to send a larger state-spanning message of defiance “to those who believe that gay Americans ought to be treated the same as everybody else,” wrote Atlanta Journal columnist Jay Bookman.

According to Mother Jones, State representative Sam Teasley, the first sponsor listed on the Georgia bill, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Rod Bastanmehr is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @rodb.