Georgia senator wants religious opt-out for gay marriage opponents

Religious non-profit organizations in Georgia that object to gay marriage wouldn't have to serve gay couples or accommodate government anti-discrimination requirements under legislation that has already inflamed the battle at the Capitol over religious freedom and gay rights.

State Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, said Thursday he will file a bill called the First Amendment Defense Act of Georgia, or FADA. Inspired by pending federal legislation, the bill would create an exemption for certain groups who have a religious objection to same-sex marriage.

Kirk, a former Southern Baptist pastor, said that could include a faith-based adoption agency, local youth group or preachers who are vocal about their views. Under the bill, Kirk said, no one could have their tax exemption status, education scholarship or school accreditation status challenged because of their views on gay marriage.

“No one wants these organizations to be criminalized because of their beliefs,” said Kirk, who pitched the idea as a way to protect religious groups from discrimination. “We’re ensuring all Georgians are tolerant of each other’s beliefs.”

The bill, he said, does not allow public employees or elected officials such as Georgia probate court employees to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if it offends their faith. “This is no way impedes same-sex couples’ right to obtain a marriage license,” he said.

Kirk's legislation is among at least four bills in the state Legislature that fall under so-called "religious liberty" efforts, including one that would explicitly allow florists, bakers and any other private business owner in Georgia to refuse service to gay couples getting married.

The state's corporate community has already mounted a campaign against the bills, since many business leaders think the state's companies could face an economic storm if a religious liberty bill passes here without anti-discrimination language specifically written into the legislation.