Jay Bookman

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

Keep your promise, Gov. Deal; veto HB 757

Veto it, Governor Deal.

Earlier in the so-called "religious liberty" debate, you promised to reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,” citing your own religious faith as the reason for that stand. You talked about the importance of not treating anyone as an outcast, of not giving government sanction to bigotry because doing so would violate "the teaching of Jesus."

If you were sincere in those principles, then those principles require you to veto House Bill 757. An honest reading of the bill makes clear its intent to justify and legalize discrimination, using the veil of religion as an excuse. It simply does not stand up to scrutiny, and its sponsors all but admitted that fact in the means they chose to advance it.

The bill was rewritten in secret, sidestepping the scrutiny of the committee process. It was sprung on House members Wednesday, passed by the House, and sent to and passed by the Senate, all in a matter of hours. Later, House Speaker David Ralston professed not to even know whether the bill would gut anti-discrimination laws passed at the local level, saying the courts will have to decide that matter.

You write and pass a major piece of legislation, with no real idea of what its central impact would be? Really?

You'll hear some people try to describe the latest version of HB 757 as a compromise, as not as bad as the legislation that made Indiana the focus of a damaging national controversy last year. Well, in many important ways it is worse, because it is so infused with the notion that gay people are just icky and gross, and that good, decent people need protection against having to deal with them on an equal basis.

Take the provision that states that no faith leader can be required to conduct gay weddings. I have no problem with that goal; of course they shouldn't. But the truth is that even absent the bill, there is no mechanism by which religious clerics in Georgia could ever be forced to perform marriages against their faith.  The odds of state or local government forcing such a thing are the same odds of a unicorn mating with a dragon and giving birth to a brontosaurus. They have invented this problem in their own minds, elevated it to the level of some major threat and now demand that the government come and rescue them from it.

If you still doubt that this is being driven by a groundless sense of self-induced persecution, our legislators have thoughtfully included another provision that should wipe that remaining doubt away.

Under HB 757, "All individuals shall be free to attend or not attend, at their discretion, the solemnization of any marriage, performance of any rite, or administration of any sacrament in the exercise of their rights to free exercise of religion ..."

Do we really need a law stating that you can't be forced to attend a gay wedding? Under what plausible circumstances could such compulsion occur in the first place? I suppose some henpecked husband in Hahira could now legally refuse to attend the wedding of his wife's gay second cousin so he can go play golf instead, but I'm not sure that's the type of situation in which the state should intervene with legislation.

But more seriously: What would you think if you read about some other state passing a law against forced attendance at gay weddings? As a business person with gay employees, clients, customers and friends, would you relocate your company to a state that is so riddled with anti-gay paranoia and bigotry that its state legislature found it necessary to enact such a ridiculous, insulting provision?

If you were a governor, would you sign such legislation into law?

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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.