The Georgia House and Senate on Wednesday passed “religious freedom” legislation that has long been opposed by major corporations and business boosters as discriminatory. The bill will go to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for approval.
Proponents have said the bill is needed to protect citizens and religious-organizations with sincerely held religious beliefs, but critics charge it would enshrine discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender citizens into law.
On Wednesday evening, in the hours after passage of the bill, HB 757, business and civil rights groups that have opposed the measure started to speak out.
In a statement, the Metro Atlanta Chamber said:
“We recognize this is a very challenging issue and that there was meaningful effort to address the balance between deeply held views and the interests and rights of others. We appreciate the efforts made to find common ground by the House and Senate. However, we are opposed to HB 757. This legislation is in conflict with the values of diversity and inclusion that Georgians hold dear and could erode Georgia’s hard-earned status as the No. 1 state for business – and would harm our ability to create and keep jobs that Georgia families depend upon. We agree with Governor (Nathan) Deal that allowing discrimination isn’t a proper reflection of who we are and echo his call for unity and inclusion. We deeply appreciate the Governor’s deliberation on this very important issue and respectfully ask him to maintain his view while considering this legislation.”
Georgia Prospers, a group of hundreds of corporations including Coca-Cola, Arby’s, Alston & Bird, Google, IBM and the Home Depot, also expressed their opposition to the bill.
In a tweet, the group said:
The president of the Human Rights Campaign was quoted in a blog post on the group’s website that Georgia was “courting an Indiana-style backlash,” in reference to calls for boycotts and other moves that occurred in the Hoosier State after a religious liberty bill passed there last year.
HRC President Chad Griffin called on Deal to veto the bill.
“Governor Deal made clear weeks ago that he wouldn’t sign legislation that allows discrimination–now is the time for him to show Georgia and the nation that he means it. Shockingly, the decision by the legislature today was to make an egregious and discriminatory bill even worse. It’s appalling that anti-equality extremists in the legislature are trying to ignore the will of the people of Georgia, and to empower businesses with the explicit right to discriminate and deny service to LGBT Americans. Corporate leaders in Georgia and across the country have already spoken out against this bill because the First Amendment already protects religious freedom.”
Marc Benioff, CEO of tech giant Salesforce, which had a major Atlanta office, has been critical of the Georgia bill and was one of the more outspoken voices against the Indiana measure last year.
He also said his company might rethink its investments here.
In a tweet, Benioff said:
One again Georgia is trying to pass laws that make it legal to discriminate. When will this insanity end?
William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau in statement said:
“ACVB is disappointed that the state legislature has chosen to pass HB 757, which will have a substantial impact on our convention business and serve as an unnecessary distraction as we compete to host the largest sporting events in the country. ACVB continues to be opposed to HB 757 becoming law. We have been encouraged by the Governor’s previous statements regarding religious liberty bills and trust he will do the right thing regarding this legislation. As the one of the largest industries in Georgia, Atlanta’s hospitality community is committed to welcoming and respecting the rights of all visitors to our city and state.”