Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal speaks during a press conference as he announces he has vetoed legislation allowing clergy to refuse performing gay marriage and protecting people who refuse to attend the ceremonies, March 28, 2016. 
Photo by David Goldman/AP

Georgia governor to veto ‘religious freedom’ law as N.C. is sued for LGBT bias


The backlash against efforts to weaken anti-discrimination protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people took sharp turns on Monday, when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced he will veto a controversial religious freedom bill and activists sued North Carolina’s governor over a law that blocked cities from passing their own protections.

Deal’s decision came amid rising pressure from companies that work and hold events in Georgia, including Hollywood figures and the NFL, to avoid signing a law that would have allowed businesses and clergy to refuse services to people based on their religious opposition to same-sex marriage. The bill’s opponents include Comcast and NBCUniversal, parent companies of NBC News.

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Deal said he knew of no instances in which the conflicts that the bill seeks to prevent had actually taken place. And he said he was concerned that the bill would feed discrimination, even if unintentionally.

“That is too great a risk to take,” he said in a statement.

While the governor was speaking, a coalition of civil rights groups held a press conference in North Carolina to announce they were suing Gov. Pat McCrory, who on Wednesday signed a hastily passed law that blocked the city of Charlotte’s attempt to extend LGBT protections, including the freedom for transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice.

The bathroom provision drove Republican state lawmakers and McCrory to call a special legislative session to block the Charlotte ordinance before it went into effect. They argued that allowing transgender people to use bathrooms that matched their chosen gender would violate others’ privacy and put women and girls at risk of being preyed upon by male sexual predators.

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But the North Carolina lawmakers moved beyond just the bathroom issue, voting to block all local governments from passing ordinances that prohibit discrimination in public places based on sexual orientation and gender identity. McCrory, a Republican and former Charlotte mayor who is running for re-election, said Charlotte overstepped its authority and risked breaching “basic privacy and etiquette.”

The fights in Georgia and North Carolina are the newest fronts in a widening battle over LGBT rights, pitting conservative lawmakers against advocates and the federal government in the wake of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said same-sex marriage was legal. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a restrictive bathroom bill earlier this month.

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The North Carolina lawsuit, filed in federal court on behalf of three transgender people, accuses McCrory of sex discrimination, saying the law violated constitutional freedoms of equal protection and due process — and a federal law against discrimination in educational institutions.

“We are only searching for a safe space in this world, and our home in North Carolina should be one of them,” said one of the plaintiffs, Joaquin Carcano, 27, who works as an HIV project manager at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Since McCrory’s signing of the law, a wide array of corporations have stated their opposition to it, including many of the state’s biggest employers. The NCAA said it would monitor the case in deciding where to hold future basketball tournament games. And the NBA suggested that the new law could impact its decision to hold the All-Star Game in Charlotte next year.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, one of the organizations that filed in the lawsuit, said Deal’s veto of a less sweeping measure in Georgia, which is considered a more conservative state, showed how ill-considered North Carolina’s law was. He said he hoped that lawmakers would decide to repeal the law later this spring.

“They made a really huge mistake here and they are going to have to fix it,” Sgro said.

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Georgia governor to veto 'religious freedom' law as N.C. is sued for LGBT bias