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Ga. Senate OK’s religious freedom bill critics say will allow LGBT discrimination

ATLANTA — The Georgia Senate gave decisive approval Thursday to a contentious “religious freedom” bill – one of a wave of measures surfacing in at least a dozen states that critics say could provide legal cover for discrimination against LGBT people.

Georgia state capitol in Atlanta
Georgia state capitol in Atlanta David Grant

The Georgia bill would prohibit state government from infringing on a person’s religious beliefs unless the government can prove it has a compelling interest.

Sponsor state Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus, Ga.), called that a “bright line” and said it is closely modeled on a national religious freedom law passed in 1993.

The proposal’s fate in the House is uncertain; a similar bill remains in a committee in the chamber.

The Georgia legislation has sparked protests in the Capitol rotunda and pitted clergy members against one another.

Former Republican Attorney General Mike Bowers, who years ago defended the state’s anti-sodomy law, recently came out against the bill. He called it “deserving of a quick death.” It was also denounced by national gay-rights groups.

“It does not address any legitimate problem with current law and creates harmful consequences for businesses throughout the state,” said Marty Rouse, field director for the Human Rights Campaign.

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According to the American Civil Liberties Union, similar bills have been introduced this year in more than a dozen states as conservatives brace for a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

State Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat who voted against the bill, suggested that’s the motivation for the number of bills filed in recent years. She said the U.S. Constitution already provides protection for religious people.

“We have to ensure in our capacity as lawmakers that the pendulum doesn’t swing too far the other way in the name of religion,” Parent said.

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