New “religious freedom” bill in Georgia has nothing to do with religion

Lawmakers in Georgia will soon consider a new bill that would let businesses and non-profits adopt straights-only policies for services relating to any “matrimonial ceremony.” From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

House Bill 756 would allow business owners to cite religious beliefs in refusing goods or services for a “matrimonial ceremony” — a blunt assessment of conservatives’ outrage after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June state prohibitions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

Like “religious freedom” bills that have come before it, HB 756 carves out areas of public activity in which the government must cede its regulatory authority to the discriminatory whims of private citizens. Unlike most of these earlier bills, however, HB 756 is narrowly tailored to only carve out such an exception for one specific type of public activity: selling goods and services relating to marriage ceremonies.

Church and State, via Shutterstock

Church and State, via Shutterstock

In most cases, crafting a bill with a narrower focus than the broader policy that inspired it is seen as a nod to the authors’ interest in conciliation or compromise. This isn’t one of those cases. Religious freedom bills that just so happen to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples at least carry the stated purpose of protecting, well, religious freedom. Anti-gay florists, bakers and photographers’ right to discriminate against same-sex couples is clearly the motivating factor behind these bills, but at least they theoretically apply to other situations in which religious citizens’ interests have “reasonable” conflicts with secular government regulations.

Broad legislation like the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act” currently pending in the House may be cruel and draconian and antithetical to the First Amendment’s establishment of the boundaries between Church and State, but that kind of legislation is value-neutral in the same way that voter ID laws are race-neutral.

By limiting its reach to “matrimonial ceremonies,” HB 756 drops this pretense. The bill doesn’t claim to protect religious freedom in any sort of broad sense. It’s just about giving conservative Christians a special right to give the finger to same-sex couples.

As the Journal-Constitution reports, Georgia Republicans have been slow to rally behind the measure.

(h/t Towleroad)

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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