Bill lets businesses refuse services to gay couples in Georgia

Florists, bakers or any other private business owner could refuse service to gay couples getting married in Georgia, under legislation filed Wednesday that is likely to inflame the battle at the Capitol over religious freedom and gay rights.

House Bill 756 would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs in refusing goods or services for a “matrimonial ceremony” — a blunt assessment of conservatives’ outrage after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June state prohibitions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

The bill represents the worst fears of gay rights advocates and others who have fought the last two years against other so-called religious liberty legislation. One of the most prominent bills, Senate Bill 129, remains tabled in a House committee after moderate Republicans and Democrats attached anti-discrimination language that supporters say gutted the bill.

SB 129, however, makes no provision allowing businesses to refuse services to gay weddings for religious reasons and its sponsor, state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, has said repeatedly that he has no anti-gay agenda.

HB 756 is much more explicit, and its timing couldn’t have been more ironic.

A second proposal, House Bill 757, was also filed Wednesday. Commonly called the “Pastor Protection Act,” the bill is championed by House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, and meant to be a compromise in the religious liberty debate. It would make clear that no religious leader in Georgia can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding. It is not expected to have much opposition as even marriage-equality supporters say that’s not their intent.

HB 756, however, will likely be met with fierce criticism. And the same man — state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville — is the lead sponsor of both of them. Tanner left the Capitol Wednesday afternoon and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ralston has made clear the only religious liberty related legislation he would support is HB 757.

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