Georgia Governor Rejects Bill Shielding Critics of Gay Marriage

By Alan Blinder with The New York Times

ATLANTA — In a victory for gay rights groups, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia said Monday that he would veto a proposal intended to strengthen legal protections for critics of same-sex marriage.

“I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia,” Mr. Deal said at a news conference at the State Capitol here, where he did not take questions from the assembled reporters.

Mr. Deal announced his decision less than two weeks after the Georgia General Assembly easily approved House Bill 757, which was intended to offer protections to faith-based groups if they, absent certain conditions, refused to provide “social, educational or charitable services that violate” their religious beliefs. The bill’s authors also said the measure would have allowed such groups, without legal repercussions, to avoid employing someone whose religious beliefs conflicted with the organization’s.

Since the General Assembly approved the legislation this month, Mr. Deal has faced substantial pressure from religious conservatives in his own party, as well as from business interests and gay rights groups. Supporters and opponents flooded his office with feedback, and strategists on both sides of the debate planned extensive campaigns to sway him.

Critics regarded the bill as a poorly masked effort to permit discrimination. Hundreds of companies warned Mr. Deal against signing the bill, which they said could jeopardize Georgia’s reputation as a business-friendly state. Some corporations and sports organizations also signaled that Georgia could miss out on economic opportunities, like hosting the Super Bowl in 2019 or 2020.

“It is of great concern to us when something happens that could, in any way, shape or form, damage the brand that Georgia has built for itself, the brand that Atlanta has built for itself,” Joseph S. Folz, the vice president and general counsel of Porsche Cars North America, which is based in Atlanta, said as Mr. Deal weighed his decision last week.

But the bill’s supporters, which included clear majorities in the Republican-dominated General Assembly, said the measure was necessary in the wake of the United States Supreme Court decision last summer that recognized a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. And they plainly dismissed complaints from businesses.

“You have individual companies who are obviously sensitive to diversity issues,” State Senator Josh McKoon, a Republican who supported the proposal, said last week. “They certainly want to be seen as diverse and inclusive. Unfortunately for my perspective, the only group that is not part of that or embraced by that are people of faith.”