Georgia Governor Nathan Deal shocked fellow Republicans by becoming the latest voice to oppose a bill critics say sanctions anti-gay discrimination.
Usually referred to as the First Amendment Defence Act, the bill would allow religious organisations such as schools, hospitals and adoption centres to deny services by citing “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” against same-sex marriage.
The Republican-backed legislation was approved by the Georgia Senate in a vote that fell along party lines last month, and now awaits action from the Georgia House of Representatives.
But Deal, amidst a wave of pressure from businesses and LGBT advocates, warned lawmakers on Thursday he would reject the measure if Congress sent it to him.
“I don’t think we have to have anything that allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith,” Deal said at the state capitol in Atlanta, according to WSB-TV.
“I do not feel threatened by the fact that people who might choose same-sex marriages pursue that route,” he said.
Deal then took a surprising turn by invoking the Bible to defend his opposition to the bill:
“What the New Testament teaches us is that Jesus reached out to those who were considered the outcasts, the ones that did not conform to the religious societies’ view of the world … We do not have a belief in my way of looking at religion that says we have to discriminate against anybody. If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.”
Deal, a Southern Baptist, said the Bible taught him not to “discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs.”
“We are not jeopardized, in my opinion, by those who believe differently from us. We are not, in my opinion, put in jeopardy by virtue of those who might hold different beliefs or who may not even agree with what our Supreme Court said the law of the land is on the issue of same-sex marriage. I do not feel threatened by the fact that people who might choose same-sex marriages pursue that route.”
The condemnation is especially shocking coming from Deal, who is considered among the nation’s most conservative governors.
“I think he was speaking the language of a section of Georgia voters that very much base their policy opinions in a biblical context,” Georgia Democratic State Senator Nan Orrock told Business Insider. “He was speaking to the very sector of people that want this bill.”
“So I applaud the governor. It takes that kind of message from top leaders to turn something back like this.”
Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, a Republican, said he agreed with Deal, leading observers to speculate the House would not act on the bill before the legislative session ends March 24.
Critics of the bill include local business leaders who fear its passage could cost the state billions of dollars of lost revenue.
At least one company — telecommunications startup 373K — has already bailed on Georgia, announcing on Twitter it was moving to Nevada.
And last week, Twitter joined a coalition of hundreds of businesses, including Google, Microsoft and Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, in opposing the bill.
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