Georgia Senator Wants Protection for Gay Marriage Objectors

Georgia State Sen. Greg Kirk

Religious adoption agencies, schools, government workers and others should be able to refuse service to same-sex couples "without fear of persecution," a Georgia state senator said Thursday before introducing a bill intended to shield those who object to gay marriage.

The proposal by GOP state Sen. Greg Kirk, a former Southern Baptist pastor, comes months after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision effectively legalizing gay marriage nationwide. It's among at least four bills in Georgia that gay rights supporters call discriminatory. The state's business community also has said it could harm Georgia's reputation and economy.

Supporters argue that people whose religious beliefs do not include gay marriage deserve legal protection when applying for a government job or when seeking charitable tax-exempt status or pursuing a government contract.

Kirk cited a discrimination complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by a former Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor who said the state's health agency offered him a job but rescinded it after finding recordings of his sermons against homosexuality.

Kirk said his measure would not protect government employees who refuse to perform a duty required of their job, including clerks who issue marriage licenses.

"There (are) no excuses in this bill for anyone who works for any government agency not to do their job and fulfill their duties," said Kirk, of Americus. He acknowledged that earlier drafts of the bill had prompted concerns from Senate leaders about whether clerks should be allowed to refuse licenses.

The bill text was not released on Thursday. About 30 senators' signatures were visible on a cover sheet that Kirk held up at a news conference, out of 56 total members.

Gay rights and civil rights organizations already have bashed the proposal, calling it anti-LGBT and broader than versions offered by Republicans in Congress. Georgia Equality, a gay rights advocacy organization, and other groups instead have called for a statewide civil rights act.

"This legislation sets a dangerous precedent - we can't pick and choose which laws we want to follow based on our personal beliefs," Georgia Equality's Executive Director Jeff Graham said in a statement. "Government officials can't deny services to legally married couples simply because they don't approve of their marriage."


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