Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

Gov. Deal makes the right decision, citing the right reasons

Gov. Nathan Deal has announced a veto of House Bill 757, the so-called "religious liberty" bill, and he cited all the right reasons for doing so.

As he noted, the isolated "horror stories" about alleged infringement of religious liberty that have been told to justify passage of the bill have all occurred in other states, and given existing Georgia law they are highly unlikely to occur here. No preacher is going to be forced to marry gay people in contradiction of his or her faith. No bakery is going to be forced by state law to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple. There is simply no mechanism here by which such things could happen.

That's because, as Deal pointed out, Georgia has no law on the books that protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Without such a state law, there is no rationale for passing a religious-based exemption to such a law. Doing so anyway is basically a gratuitous insult, not a response to a problem.

Furthermore, given the strong provisions of the First Amendment at the federal level that have protected people of faith for more than 200 years, state-level legislation seeking to protect religious liberty is more likely to cause mischief than to solve problems.

According to Deal, threats of economic boycotts against the state played no role in his decision.  Maybe that's true; maybe it isn't. At the very least, such threats focused official attention on the issue to a degree that might not otherwise have existed.  But taking Deal at his word, he said instead that he is vetoing HB 757 because by enabling discrimination against a particular group of people, it contradicts what is best about Georgia:

"This is about the character of our state and the character of its people. 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."

Thank you, governor. You did the right thing for Georgia. And while supporters of HB 757 are already talking of forcing a special legislative session to override Deal's veto, that's pure posturing and venting. There is no way on earth that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker David Ralston will allow that kind of spectacle. It would be ruinous to their party and to their state, and in Cagle's case ruinous to his own political ambitions.

Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.