GOP presses state bills limiting gay rights ahead of Supreme Court marriage ruling

In this Jan. 13, 2015 photo, Michael O'Hara, a retired Fulton County firefighter and current Coweta County paramedic attends a rally to support former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran following his termination in Atlanta. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to decide whether gay couples can marry, lawmakers in the South and West are doubling down on the culture wars, backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights. David Goldman, AP

In this Jan. 13, 2015 photo, Michael O'Hara, a retired Fulton County firefighter and current Coweta County paramedic attends a rally to support former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran following his termination in Atlanta. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to decide whether gay couples can marry, lawmakers in the South and West are doubling down on the culture wars, backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights.David Goldman, AP

In this Jan. 13, 2015 photo, Michael O’Hara, a retired Fulton County firefighter and current Coweta County paramedic attends a rally to support former Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran following his termination in Atlanta. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court gets ready to decide whether gay couples can marry, lawmakers in the South and West are doubling down on the culture wars, backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights.

A Texas lawmaker would strip the salaries from government officials who honor same-sex marriage licenses.

Other states would protect government officials who opt out of performing gay nuptials.

In Georgia, where lawmakers are considering a bill that critics fear could allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers, the former head of the country’s largest Protestant denomination recently urged lawmakers to rein in “erotic liberty.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in April and could decide by June whether gay couples can marry, and national opinion polls show U.S. voters increasingly unopposed to gay rights. Yet lawmakers in a handful of states are backing longshot legislation targeting gay rights, doubling down on the culture wars. Most, if not all, of the efforts are led by Republicans.

The bills are more political theatre than serious policy. Few seem to have widespread support among lawmakers, and senior Republicans are not adopting these efforts as their own. In Georgia, well-funded business groups oppose them.

Still, the legislation remains popular with vocal and organized voting blocks in states or parts of the states where they’ve been proposed. But any political points they score could come at a price.

If the bills’ backers manage to force a sharp debate in coming weeks, and the Supreme Court rules in favor of gay marriage a few months later, supporters of the bills would be exposed to criticism that they’ve been fighting for a fringe issue.

“On no issue during my 40-year career have opinions moved as rapidly as they have on the issue of the morality of gay relationships and ultimately gay marriage,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the National Rifle Association. “When you have conservative organizations like the U.S. military and the Boy Scouts openly accepting gay members, the debate is close to being over.”

Not in Georgia. In a devotional delivered to newly convened lawmakers, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention urged them to defend the freedom to act on religious beliefs, though he stopped short of endorsing legislation that supporters say would do precisely that.

“We are a living in a society that is on a collision course with a choice between erotic liberty and religious liberty,” the Rev. Bryant Wright told lawmakers. “… Your role in government is about restraining sin.”

Georgia politicians rejected tougher legislation last year, avoiding a showdown that occurred over a similar bill in Arizona, where Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a measure the Republican-controlled Statehouse had adopted.

This year, the toughest measure comes in Texas, where Republican state Rep. Cecil Bell has proposed stripping state and local officials of their salaries if they issue or honor same-sex marriage licenses. In 2005, Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, but a federal judge struck it down last year. The judge stayed his ruling until an appeals court could consider the issue.

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