After the passage of North Carolina's HB2, which prevents cities from passing their own non-discrimination ordinances, and what felt like devastating steps backward for LGBT rights groups, there has been a small step forward. Another state's legislature passed a similar bill through the state house and senate, but that's where it will end. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will veto a similar LGBT bill, which demonstrates the influence and importance of public opinion.
Deal announced this morning he will veto House Bill 757, according to CNN. It is known by opponents as the "anti-LGBT" bill because of claims it would lead to open discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. The bill is similar to North Carolina's law in that it purports to protect against discrimination, but it does so by singling out LGBT people and denying them rights. For example, Georgia's bill aimed to protect religious leaders from having to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs (while in effect denying LGBT people from marrying). It also wanted to allow religious groups to refuse employment or service to any customer who violated their beliefs (like ordering cupcakes for a same-sex marriage, for instance). In short, the bill said the government could not interfere with the religious beliefs of anyone, even if those religious beliefs were limiting the rights of others.
According to ABC News, Deal said, "I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith based community in Georgia of which I and my family have been a part of for all of our lives. Our actions on House Bill 757 are not just about protecting the faith based community or providing business friendly climate for job growth in Georgia. I believe it is about the character of our state. And the character of our people."
He went on to defend his state:
They choose to worship God in the way they see fit ... I believe that is our best side. And our people every day work side by side without regard to the color of their skin of their fellow mate or the religion that their co-worker might adhere to. They are simply trying to make life better for themselves, their families and their communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.
Perhaps Deal felt motivated to speak out publicly against this bill to paint his state in contrast to nearby North Carolina, which passed HB2 and has received widespread criticism. With the public eye already trained on the Southeast, the outcry against the proposed Georgia bill was enough to push Deal toward the veto. Not only that, but there have been a number of high-profile condemnations of the bill since it was passed in the state legislature. Disney, Salesforce, professional sports teams, and more have threatened to move out of Georgia if this bill becomes law. Recently, the Human Rights Campaign sent a petition to Deal that included well-known celebrities like Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore. They vowed to refuse to work in Georgia unless he vetoed that bill, saying:
We pride ourselves on running inclusive companies, and while we have enjoyed a positive partnership on productions in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere if any legislation sanctioning discrimination is signed into state law.
Like North Carolina, Georgia began to feel the economic pressure of the condemnation of large industries. The difference is that Georgia avoided those financial repercussions by stopping the bill. Deal reiterated, "Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people." That may be true, but without the pressure of public outcry and watchful activists, even kind and generous people can sign inequality into law.