The US Supreme Court decision outlawing bans on same-sex marriages has resulted in some state legislatures passing statutes that allow people to discriminate against the members of the LGBT community under the guise of advancing ‘religious freedom’. Indiana was one such state but faced condemnations from business and calls for boycotts of conventions and tourism that prompted it to reverse course.
But despite that lesson, Georgia is now trying to pass a similar anti-gay measure
The proposed law would allow both individuals and organizations to refuse to conduct business with or otherwise discriminate against anyone whose marriage they find counters their religious beliefs. It also protects individuals from existing nondiscrimination laws in Atlanta and elsewhere.
A similar bill was dismissed last year, but the speed at which this year’s version, the “First Amendment Defense Act” (FADA), is moving has raised serious concerns among state lawmakers, business owners, the faith community and activists.
The bill passed both the House and, in a different form, the Senate this month. The most recent version bars the government from taking “adverse action” against a person or faith-based organization that “believes, speaks, or acts in accordance” with the religious belief that “marriage should only be between a man and a woman”.
Not only does the bill allow individuals and faith-based organizations to discriminate against same-sex couples, but also against anyone perceived to have sexual relations outside of a heterosexual marriage, such as single parents, or unmarried couples, whether gay or straight.
A number of “easily foreseeable” scenarios that could arise if the law were to pass are included in Whitley’s analysis: a restaurant refusing service to an interracial couple; a hospital denying a man the right to visit his male spouse; a business refusing to hire a single woman living with her partner. The same kind of discrimination on the part of an employer, landlord, or public employee could be protected under FADA.
This has prompted a backlash, especially from the business community.
Telecom startup 373k announced it would to relocate from Decatur, Georgia, to Nevada immediately after the Georgia senate voted in favor of the measure last week.
“I don’t want to be in a state where it is hard to attract the best talent,” said founder Kelvin Williams, who is gay.
Mary Moore, a local business owner, said: “I think there’s been a lot of strong opposition to [FADA] … I think the voices are a lot louder because everybody is now concerned that it’s actually going to pass.”
Just in the last week, roughly 100 businesses have joined a coalition of what is now over 400 companies opposing the religious freedom bill. The group Georgia Prospers, of which Moore is a member, includes a range of businesses – from Fortune 500 companies like Delta, Coca-Cola, and Home Depot to smaller ones across the state – in support of “treating all Georgians and visitors fairly”.
For businesses, the economic costs are clear. They will find it hard to hire members of the LGBT community in those states where there is discrimination against them. Also, conventions and tourism play a big role in a state’s economy. Just as in the case of Indiana, Georgia will lose out on many of them since professional organizations often have implicit and explicit anti-discrimination policies.
What we really need is a federal anti-discrimination statute that protects the LGBT community from discrimination nationwide.