Gov. Nathan Deal Vetos Religious Exemptions Bill

After weeks of controversy over a bill passed by the Georgia Legislature that drew sharp criticisms from major corporations like Disney and Microsoft, some threatening to boycott the state, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal on Monday at a press conference said he would veto the legislation.

Later Monday, Deal did veto the bill, which would have granted Georgia religious nonprofits the ability to deny services to same-sex couples.

“It is about the character of our state and character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming people. It is full of loving, kind and generous people,” Deal said at the press conference.

The measure, called the “Free Exercise Protection Act,” combined a number of bills filed in the state Legislature this session and passed with a Republican majority just a few hours after its contents were made public following private negotiations within the party.

It would allow religious nonprofits, based on their beliefs, to deny services to a same-sex couple, or a lesbian mother, for example.

For years, Georgia Republicans have grappled with how to address concerns some say they hear from conservative Christians that their religious freedom will be violated, particularly following the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

At the same time, attempts to expand religious freedom have been widely criticized by LGBT advocates, and major business groups, who worry they will lead to discrimination, or even the perception that Georgia is anti-LGBT.

At the press conference called Monday morning, Deal raised questions about claims voiced during debate over the legislation that a pastor might be forced to perform a same-sex marriage, or a church required to rent its property for a wedding.

“I am not aware of a single instance of any of those things occurring in the state of Georgia. If they have, no one has called them to my attention,” Deal said.

This post was updated 12:08 p.m. Wednesday.