By Sheryl Estrada
Image: Project Q Atlanta
The Georgia Senate is under fire for passing the highly controversial “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA) on Friday.
GOPState Sen. Greg Kirk, who sponsored the bill, said his legislation offers protection to individuals, businesses and nonprofitsthat hold to marriage as an institution of one man and one woman.
“The bill will not allow the government to discriminate against [a] business because of their belief in the traditional definition of marriage,” Kirk said last month.
The legislation protects vendors or institutions from perceived discrimination by the government for their religious beliefs they sayprevent them from serving LGBT people or same-gender couples. In essence, this will in turn allow them to discriminate against a group of people by not serving them.
Currently, there are no federal protections for LGBT civil rights, and fewer than a third of all U.S. states have laws protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.Georgiadoes not.
The Senate Rules Committee tacked FADA onto the Pastor Protection Act (House Bill757) to protect religious freedom. The motion to engrossHB757 was voted favorably in a 36-19 vote, which means no revisions can be made to the bill once it passedthe Senate.
Georgia State Democrats sent the following tweet on Friday:
GA Senate Democrats (@GASenateDems) February 19, 2016
On the Senate floor Friday StateSen. Emmanuel Jones, who is Black, pointedly asked Kirk if HB757 would protect hate groups like the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) if they identified themselves as a “faith based” organization.
Kirk said he’s not an attorney, followed by, “I guess they could, Senator.”
“So there’s nothing in your legislation that would stop them, is that correct” Jones asked.
“That’s right,” Kirk said.
“Does that present a problem for you, Senator” Jones continued.
After pausing, Kirk said, “No.”
Sen. Kirk alsomade a referenceto singer Beyonc Knowles’ Superbowl performance earlier this monthandcomparedthe Black Panther Party to the KKK. Hesaid HB 757 would cover that group as well.
The backlash over FADA includes 373K, a telecom company based in Decatur, announcing on Twitter Friday that it is leaving the state:
“I’m gay, our CFO is gay, we have people from every walk of life working here,” co-founder Kelvin Williams told The New Civil Rights Movement on Saturday. “I’ve got Muslims, Buddhists, atheists here,” he added. “We’ve got great Christians working for us. They’ve never thought of not serving anyone that’s not the message of Christ.”
Since the U.S. Supreme Court granted equal marriage rights to same-gender couples in June, legislators around the country against LGBT rights have been hard at work. Even before the historic decision, last March, Gov. Mike Pence signed Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA) into law, which similarly discriminates against LGBT people, and causeda national firestorm. Two Indiana-based DiversityInc Top 50 Companies who led the fight against the law are Cumminsand Eli Lilly and Company, Nos. 21 and 24.
Due to the immense backlash, the bill was amended toclarify that businesses and individuals cannot refuse service or goods to people based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, Beth A. Brooke-Marciniak,global vice chair of public policy andglobal sponsor for diversity and inclusiveness at EY (No. 4), wrote in April, “The sad reality is that the ‘fix’ actually just returns Indiana to where things stood before RFRA LGBT discrimination in the workplace is permissible throughout most of the state.”
The law has since cost Indiana millions. “Since April 2015, Indianapolis has lost more than $60 million in future convention business as a result of the RFRA controversy,” Chris Gahl, vice president of marketing and communications at Visit Indy, said in an interview in January.
GeorgiaStateSen.Nan Orrock, in opposition to FADA, remarked on Friday that the economic impact would be devastating to Georgia’s economy. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the senator also cited that over 300 businesses signed on to support LGBT equality under Georgia Prospers. TheFADAbill goes to the House this week.