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

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Republican lawmakers in South Carolina, Virginia and Utah have proposed giving government officials or wedding celebrants the right to opt out of gay nuptials if participating violates their religious beliefs.

In Georgia, the debate flared this month when Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed fired the city’s fire chief after learning the chief self-published a book describing homosexuality as a perversion. Reed, a Democrat, said the fire chief never got city permission to publish the book, but the fire chief said he did.

The Washington-based Family Research Council and others have used the firing to rally support for the latest legislation in Georgia, though it’s unclear the proposed law would have made a difference. The legislation would forbid the state government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest.

Unlike legislation in other states, the bill in Georgia makes no reference to same-sex relationships, though critics fear it would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers. Other states have passed similar acts.

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Republican Rep. Sam Teasley, the bill’s sponsor, denied the bill is about gay marriage.

“This is a modest protection for people of faith,” he said.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce says it will oppose any bill that allows discrimination. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, voted for a federal version of the legislation in Congress, though it was before gay marriage began in the United States.

“It’s not a bill that I’m going to be pushing on my own initiative, but it is one that I have sentiment for,” Deal said.

The Republican speaker of Georgia’s House of Representatives, Rep. David Ralston, has signaled his skepticism.

“This is obviously something that was important to the drafters of the constitution because they put religious freedom in the constitution,” Ralston told reporters. “I want to know what this bill does that the constitution doesn’t do.”

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