CEO to Georgia lawmakers on religious liberty bill: 'The world is watching'

Gov. Nathan Deal's biblical case against Georgia's "religious liberty" proposal provoked a show of support from business behemoths, gay rights activists and left-leaning groups uniting to rally around the Republican. The measure's supporters, meanwhile, signaled they are digging in for a brutal battle over the last few weeks of the legislative session.

The governor said Thursday he would reject any measure that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,” and urged religious conservatives not to feel threatened by the ruling. He also called on his fellow Republicans pushing for the measure to take a deep breath and "recognize that the world is changing around us.”

Soon, a litany of corporate chieftains who had warned the measure was discriminatory praised the governor's stance. This came Friday from Paul Polman, the chief executive of Unilever:

Link: Nathan Deal's remarkably forceful case against the 'religious liberty' bill

Ed Bastian, the incoming chief executive for Delta Air Lines, also made clear Friday the Atlanta-based giant had the governor's back:

“Delta applauds Governor Deal for his leadership and clear message that discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. With a diverse workforce that includes more than 30,000 employees across Georgia, we fully support Governor Deal rejecting a bill, including Bill 757, that would do anything other than uphold equality and ensure Georgia remains a welcoming state for everyone.”

Better Georgia, the left-leaning guerrilla group usually at war with Deal, even had a backhanded compliment for the Republican:

"Our guess is that — more than anything else — it’s Gov. Deal’s love of money that prompted him to make this stand. But while Deal’s motives may not be the purest, his statements will go a long way in stopping this discriminatory legislation.

"We know that powerful Right-wing extremists lobbying for anti-gay legislation will not give up without a fight. As progressives, we have to keep the pressure on the governor and all of our state lawmakers to do the right thing for Georgians — whatever their motives may be."

The proposal, which has already passed the Georgia Senate, would allow opponents of same-sex marriage to cite religious beliefs in denying services to gay couples. It is seen as a conservative answer to the Supreme Court ruling last year that legalized same-sex marriage.

Link: Gay rights groups sense a momentum shift in 'religious liberty' debate

Supporters of the measure also prepared for a long fight. Mike Griffin of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board said the measure "protects people of faith from discrimination by the government coercing them into actions that violate their religious beliefs.” And he also pointed to a different verse in the Bible to defend the measure: Matthew 19: 4-6.

From the AJC's premium story:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

The bill, Griffin said, “just narrowly defines this one area of marriage.”

Read more about the debate here.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.