ATLANTA — Georgia’s state Senate approved a bill on Friday allowing faith-based organizations to refuse services to same-sex couples without government penalties, including loss of grants or other taxpayer funding.
Senators voted 38 to 14 on party lines, despite fear about damage to the state’s economy expressed by the state’s influential business community and opposition from gay-rights advocates.
The bill combines a Senate proposal shielding adoption agencies, schools and other faith-based organizations from penalties for opposing same-sex marriage and a House bill allowing religious officials to decline performing the unions.
Sen. Greg Kirk, an Americus Republican, initially proposed the exemption for faith-based organizations as a separate bill titled the “First Amendment Defense Act.”
Senate leadership added Kirk’s measure to the House proposal earlier this week, fast-tracking a floor vote.
Kirk, a former Southern Baptist pastor, said the bill blocks the government from denying or revoking tax status, licenses or state funding based on a faith-based organization’s view of marriage. He said it protects any view of legal marriage between two people, including same-sex marriage, which was effectively legalized last summer by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.
In its example of beliefs that would be protected, however, the bill cites only the view of marriage as that between one man and one woman.
It also states that government employees could not use the law to refuse performing duties of their job, such as a clerk who issues marriage licenses.
“We are not picking sides,” Kirk said. “This bill does not favor one viewpoint over others, which is exactly how government should act with regard to religious beliefs.”
The bill now returns to the House. It’s unclear what action House members will take.