Same-sex marriage foes win ‘religious’ vote in Georgia Senate

Opponents of same-sex marriage won a major victory Friday when the Georgia Senate approved a measure allowing them to cite religious beliefs in denying service to gay couples.

"I want you to understand, this legislation is about equal protection and not discrimination," said it's sponsor, state Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus. "It only impacts the government's interaction with faith-based organizations or a person who holds faith-based, sincerely held beliefs as it relates to marriage."

Passage of House Bill 757 came against the wishes of the powerful Metro Atlanta Chamber, which went on record Friday opposing the vote. So did the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, Hilton Worldwide, Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group, which all said the bill would have a chilling effect on Georgia's reputation for both business and tourism.

“The current version of HB 757 may allow discrimination against our guests and employees and is in direct contradiction to our company’s anti-discrimination policy and culture of hospitality,” IHG’s Paul Snyder said. “If passed, it will send a message to our customers, employees and visitors from across the nation that Georgia is closed for business to a specific class of people.”

HB 757 would enable faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving couples — gay, straight or unmarried — or following anti-discrimination requirements if they cite a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction regarding marriage.

Religious conservatives have cheered the measure as a compromise that recognizes their faith-based objections to gay marriage. Many in Georgia’s business community, however, have expressed concerns over the bill and the potential harm it may cause if it causes groups to boycott the state. LGBT advocates said the bill legalizes discrimination.

Friday’s vote was not final passage. Although HB 757 passed the House earlier this month, the Senate made major changes to the bill in committee. It must now go back to the House for another look. That chamber is expected to take the bill up as soon as next week.

To read more about what's allowed under the bill and why it concerns Georgia's corporate leaders and others, see our expanded story about the legislation as the Senate work on it this week.