Two Georgia bills join in union to counter same-sex marriage ruling

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Weddings can be expensive, but $1 billion to $2 billion? We’ll have to see if that bill comes in.

This past week, two pieces of legislation inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last year legalizing same-sex marriage were joined in a marriage of their own. Presiding over the ceremony that bonded the Pastor Protection Act (House Bill 757) and the First Amendment Defense Act (Senate Bill 284) was the Senate Rules Committee. On Friday, the full Senate gave its stamp of approval.

The way has often appeared clear for the Pastor Protection Act, which would have made it law that no pastor could be forced to perform a same-sex wedding. While it was sponsored by state Rep. Kevin Tanner, R-Dawsonville, it is considered the brainchild of House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, who has said it's the only religious liberty bill he intends to support this session. No true organized opposition arose against the bill, although state Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, once suggested that a more proper name for HB 757 would be the "Politician Protection Act."

On its own, SB 284 faced a rockier road. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Greg Kirk, R-Americus, would have created a religious exemption for Georgia nonprofits that believe "marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage."

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

Supporters of the new HB 757 said the state’s business leaders backed it. But the Georgia Chamber’s David Raynor and the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Katie Kirkpatrick did not sound so sure when they said, in a joint statement, that “there are still unresolved issues that must be addressed in this bill, in addition to the underlying concerns that remain about the potential adverse ramifications for Georgia’s economy.”

Those "ramifications" concern studies by the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau that – based at least in part on what happened in Indiana after religious liberty legislation was passed there – found that passage of at least some types of religious liberty bills could have a negative impact on Georgia's economy of $1 billion to $2 billion.

The new HB 757 now returns to the House, which unanimously approved the original legislation.

Electoral College isn’t

so popular with panel

The House dipped its toe in the pool of presidential politics Wednesday when the Interstate Cooperation Committee endorsed an effort to let Georgia join other states that want to award electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide.

House Bill 929 essentially says Georgia's current system that awards all the state's Electoral College electors to the winning presidential candidate in the state is unfair because it discounts the national tally.

The sponsor of HB 929, state Rep. Earl Ehrhart, R-Powder Springs, explained it simply: "It guarantees the presidency to the candidate who gets the most popular vote."

HB 929 would allow Georgia to join a compact of state legislatures across the nation that all agree to use the national tally as a way to award their electoral votes. Supporters say the effort has particular resonance for nonbattleground states that witness little campaigning by candidates. They say the compact would make those states — nearly 40 of them in all — once again relevant in presidential elections.

According to the legislation, the compact would go into effect only when enough states have signed on to guarantee a majority 270 electoral votes can be reached to elect the president. So far, it has a ways to go, although at least 10 states have adopted the measure.

Presumably, it has the support of Presidents Samuel Tilden and Al Gore.

Getting a dog could be

a House-friendly move

While we're talking about presidential politics, plans have been made for Ohio Gov. John Kasich to address the House on Tuesday.

Kasich would be the first presidential candidate this year to take advantage of Speaker David Ralston’s policy that any candidate who comes is allowed to address the House.

Of course, it could all depend on Kasich’s performance in the South Carolina Republican primary.

If Kasich wants to make a good impression, he might consider adopting a dog.

The House voted 172-0 on Tuesday to pass House Bill 561, which officially named a state dog. Despite the popularity of a particular breed throughout much of the state, the House decided that, following the parlance in Athens, that a "damned good dawg" would be "the adoptable dog."

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, would recognize the thousands of dogs — and cats, too — currently up for adoption in Georgia animal shelters, humane societies and private rescue groups.

A canine could come in handy if Kasich realizes his ambitions. As the saying goes, "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."