Georgia lawmakers passed a contentious “religious liberty” bill Wednesday that critics maintain will open the door to anti-gay discrimination.
The bill, which underwent months of debate and revisions, permits faith-based organisations to deny social, educational and charitable services based on a “sincerely held religious belief” relating to marriage.
It also permits them to cite religious beliefs when making employment decisions. The bill defines faith-based organisations as churches, religious schools and mission groups, but critics fear the broad language of the bill could cover businesses, hospitals, adoption centres and homeless shelters as well.
The Republican-backed legislation was passed by the Georgia House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon, and quickly passed through the Senate just hours later. Both votes fell along party lines.
The bill now goes to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal for approval. Deal stated earlier this month he would veto a bill that sanctions discrimination, leading many to believe the House would not act on the bill before its legislative session expires March 24.
Following the bill’s passage by the House, his office released a statement saying Deal “has been clear on the issue and will review the legislation in April during bill review,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Republican State Sen. Greg Kirk, one of the architects of the bill, cited last year’s Supreme Court decision to grant same-sex couples the right to marriage as the motivation for the bill.
“When the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage, there was a need for this law,” Kirk said on the Senate floor. “And it took Georgia to lead the way for the rest of the country to put this law together.”
However, a number of Democratic lawmakers urged the Senate to reconsider.
“The Supreme Court has decided that marriage is a fundamental right, and we’re debating infringing on that fundamental right,” Democratic State Sen. Harold Jones said. “We’re not debating about your point of view or my point of view. We’re having a debate about what the Supreme Court of this country has said is a fundamental right.”
Business leaders across the state have warned the legislature of the potential financial impact the bill could have, with some studies pinning losses as high as $2 billion. A number of high-profile businesses, including Google, Twitter and Microsoft, have joined the Georgia Prospers coalition to oppose the bill.
“The calls for a boycott and economic damages are just beginning,” Atlanta gay-rights activist Robbie Medwed told Business Insider in a statement. “Over 480 Georgia businesses oppose this bill, but its supporters are so dead-set on keeping LGBT people second-class they’re willing to damage Georgia’s economy and reputation.”
“I am ashamed to be from Georgia tonight. I am ashamed that my legislature is so against LGBT equality they had to enact special legislation to fight it.”
Read the full bill below: