On Friday, the Republican-majority Georgia Senate passed a bill to allow legal discrimination of gays and lesbians as part of “religious freedom.” The bill, which passed 38 to 14 along party lines, would allow for faith-based organizations to refuse service to same-sex couples.
The bill, which is a hybrid of the “Pastor Protection Act” which passed in the House this month and the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), seeks to expand the “rights” of those who disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer to permit same-sex marriage nationwide. The bill’s sponsor Sen. Greg Kirk (R-Americus) is concerned that the religious organizations are threatened with their “right” to maintain their special faith-based tax status if they choose to discriminate against LGBTQ Americans by denying them marriage licenses.
However, the bill goes further than to simply allow religious bodies to refuse same-sex marriages. Single mothers, LGBTQ couples hoping to adopt children, and individuals seeking counseling services could all be denied service based on the claim of religious objection to their sexual habits. Even non-LGBTQ women and couples could be affected.
State-contracted counselors could refuse to provide services to single mothers. Taxpayer funded adoption and foster care agencies could refuse to place children in desperate need of loving and caring homes with LGBT couples. State-funded homeless shelters could turn away unwed couples and their families. Government employees could refuse to file tax forms for same-sex couples or provide state benefits to single mothers.
“It definitely sends the message, if you want to discriminate based on your views of marriage, have at it,” said Sen. Nan Orrock (D-Atlanta) in the Senate’s three hour debate Friday before voting on the bill.
“FADA includes the troubling language that people can be discriminated against based on their sexual habits,” Sen. Elena Parent (D-Decatur) said during debate on the Senate floor. “This sanctions discrimination against single mothers, people who have had affairs, people who co-habitate, people who are divorced, people who are remarried and many others.”
For the bill to become law, it will now have to pass in the Georgia House.
A non-partisan study released one day before the Senate voted shows that the majority of Georgian’s do support anti-discrimination laws that would protect LGBT individuals in the private sector. The majority of Georgians, according to the survey of 42,000 individuals, also support marriage equality.
On Friday, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed Bill 1523, known as the Religious Liberties Accommodation Act, which similarly seeks to take power away from the federal court decision to allow marriage equality and expand the power of officials to discriminate against couples and individuals based on their beliefs.
The measure would allow officials not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because their religious beliefs. HB 1523 also applies to those who decline to “participate in the provision of treatments, counseling or surgeries related to sex reassignment or gender identity transitioning…based upon a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”
The bill, which now moves to the Mississippi Senate, will legalize discrimination for landlords, businesses, and foster care agencies as well. It also goes as far as to define “man” and “woman” completely on the basis of biological sex at birth, a dangerous supposition that Rep. Edward Blackmon, D-Canton says “ignores science” on the biology of gender.