Georgia ‘religious liberty’ bill’s opponents hold celebration rally

A few hundred opponents of Georgia's "religious liberty" bill gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol to celebrate Gov. Nathan Deal's veto last week of the controversial legislation.

“Today is an amazing day, y’all,” said Simone Bell, the former Georgia legislator who’s now the Southern regional director for Lambda Legal, an organization that works on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “It’s not often the LGBT community can come here in celebration instead of coming here and protesting.”

A coalition of local and national groups including Georgia Equality, the Anti-Defamation League and the Human Rights Campaign sponsored Tuesday's rally, saying it was a gathering meant to be both a "thank you" to Deal and a plea for like-minded supporters to stay united over the legislative off-season.

Deal vetoed House Bill 757 last week, saying the bill did not reflect the state's image as home to "warm, friendly and loving people." The bill he rejected was a fusion of several different religious liberty ideas and would have, among other things, protected faith-based groups' ability to fire employees because they are gay and prevented anyone from being forced to attend a gay wedding.

The groups rallying at the Capitol as well as other opponents, including many in Georgia’s business community, opposed the legislation on grounds that they said it would legalize discrimination, particularly against the state’s gay community.

It's an issue playing out nationally, as those rallying Tuesday were buoyed by Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's announcement of a travel ban for city employees to North Carolina, which just passed a law excluding the LGBT community from anti-discrimination protections and keeping cities from adopting their own anti-discrimination measures.

Conservatives and some religious groups in Georgia have vowed to keep Deal's veto in the spotlight through this year's state election season and into January, when those groups expect to again push legislation they say would protect religious viewpoints and prevent discrimination against faith-based groups, particularly those opposed to same-sex marriage.