Some Georgia Republicans eye a middle ground on 'religious liberty' debate

Gov. Nathan Deal has made clear he wants sweeping changes to Georgia's "religious liberty" proposal, which would allow opponents of same-sex marriage to cite religious beliefs in denying services to gay couples. What hasn't publicly emerged yet is a compromise that can satisfy both sides of the debate.

State Rep. Allen Peake, a Macon Republican, said he and state Rep. Beth Beskin, R-Atlanta, have devised a possible solution.

Their plan, revealed in an email to Deal's aides and House Speaker David Ralston obtained Tuesday through a public records request, would strip the Senate proposal of language that would enable faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples while keeping the part that states clergy could not be forced to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony.

He would also add a line declaring that no business "shall be required to sell goods or services directly to a religious organization or for a religious or matrimonial ceremony."

"Guys, as you know I have a gay brother and have serious concerns about the language added in the Senate onto HB 757," Peake wrote, referring to the legislation. "I sure don't want us to pass any legislation that would cause him to be denied service or turned away from a restaurant or hotel, just because he is gay."

He added: "But I also fully understand and support that he should not expect someone to 'participate' in his gay wedding, if that participation violated an individual's religious conviction."

Peake, who was once part of Deal's legislative team, said in the email the idea "hits the heart of the matter of making sure there is no forced participation in a wedding ceremony, but also makes sure we don't allow discrimination against folks like my brother."

On Tuesday, Peake said his effort was part of an "ongoing discussion" to find a compromise. A spokesman for Ralston said the Peake proposal is one of many compromise efforts in the works.

"Speaker Ralston remains committed to working toward a solution that fulfills Governor Deal’s vision of a compromise that protects religious liberties without unintended consequences," said the spokesman, Kaleb McMichen.

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