In late February, I wrote a long post about the Preservation of Religious Freedom act that was then working its way through the Georgia Legislature. The bill would have extended the rights granted by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Georgians.
In the end, the bill did not get a vote in either the House or Senate, based on concerns expressed by the business community and opposition by the LGBT community, which was fearful that the bill’s passage would enable discrimination against gay couples.
After the post was published, and after it became clear the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act wasn’t going to pass, I heard from people on both sides of the issue indicating a desire to work together to find a solution that would find common ground and respect the interests of both the religious and LGBT communities. Senator Josh McKoon said he wanted to educate people on what the Religious Freedom Act was, and how it wouldn’t foster discrimination, in hopes of getting the bill passed in 2015.
Georgia is one of five states – the others are Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota – where there had been no litigation filed challenging our state constitutional ban on same sex marriage (SSM). According to Anthony Michael Kreis, the steering committee political co-chair at the Human Rights Campaign, that will no longer be true as a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on SSM will be filed later today.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to a Republican Georgia state legislator who brought up the likelihood of just such a lawsuit. He pointed out that once the suit was filed, it was only going to be a matter of time before the ban on SSM would be overturned. And he brought up the possibility of GOP-written legislation that would provide for a constitutional amendment to remove the prohibition on SSM and contain provisions protecting the religious freedoms of all.
He was concerned that without the passage of such a bill, not only would the state’s ban on SSM be ruled unconstitutional, but Republicans would become a rapidly shrinking minority, given strong support of SSM by millennials.
A legislative proposal to change the Constitution would have to be voted on in a general election, most likely in 2016. As one millennial told me, if the vote were limited to those under 35, it would pass overwhelmingly.
Kreis thinks it might take four to six months to get the constitutional challenge through the trial court, depending on how it is handled. And given likely appeals, it could be a year or two before everything is resolved. We can expect Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens to defend the SSM ban, given what he told the Faith and Freedom Coalition in February.
For those who think there could be an agreement resolving the religious freedom and same sex marriage issues without an expensive, nasty court fight that could leave one or both sides unhappy, the time to work together to find a solution is now.