The fight for religious liberty in Georgia is not over, according to Lt. Gov Casey Cagle.
“The issue will move forward and we will be very focused throughout not only this year but even next year to look at continued ways to ensure that the not-for-profits and the Christian not-for-profits like adoption agencies, pastors and others have the protection that is necessary, that government will not take adverse action against them because of their faith,” he said.
Cagle was referring to House Bill 757, a bill vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal March 28. The bill combined a Pastor Protection Act, which would enable religious leaders to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, with language that would allow faith-based groups to deny jobs and services to those with whom their religions disagree.
Supporters said the bill was necessary to protect religious freedom. Opponents have called it a license to discriminate against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
In an open letter to Georgia officials, including Deal and Cagle, a group of LGBT rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign and Lambda Legal said the pastor protection would not change existing law, which does not require pastors to perform same-sex marriages.
The groups also said the bill could be harmful to Georgia's LGBT citizens.
“The scope of this extraordinary bill means legally married same-sex couples and their families, single mothers and their children, victims of domestic violence, and so many other hardworking Georgians could be denied critical – sometimes life-saving – services,” they wrote.
Deal's veto came in the wake of backlash from the business community, with major companies rallying against the legislation. Disney threatened to stop filming in the state, and the NFL said it could cost Atlanta the Super Bowl. Big local businesses like Coca-Cola and Home Depot also came out against the bill.
“Our actions on HB 757 are not just about protecting the faith-based community, or for providing business friendly job growth in Georgia,” Deal said. “I believe it is about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people. ... I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”
Speaking at a meeting of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce March 29, Cagle said he disagrees with Deal's decision, as well the characterizations put forth by LGBT groups and anti-legislation businesses.
“I will tell you I have personal friends that are obviously lesbian, gay,” he said. “But even with that, I don't allow my personal beliefs or my personal faith to get in the way of an individual. And I don't think discrimination is occurring in our state, and I am not one that would condone it or allow anything that would certainly promote that.”
Cagle said the legislature worked hard to craft a bill that did not allow for discrimination. He said it mirrored existing legislation in other states, and said businesses that came out against the bill were seeking positive PR by calling out discrimination where it does not exist. He pointed out that some companies who spoke out against the proposed law do business in countries where homosexuality is illegal.