Post submitted by Hope Jackson
This past Friday, I traveled to the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta to hear the state Senate vote on the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act (FADA)” (formerly known as SB 284), which the Senate Rules Committee tacked onto the Pastor Protection Act (HB 757).
HB 757 goes far beyond protecting the right to practice one’s religion and would instead put LGBT people couples, single parents, and unmarried couples at risk for discrimination.
Before the hearing, I briefly met with Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality and coalition members of Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, a project of HRC and Georgia Equality. I received information that HB 757 would likely be engrossed, meaning that no revisions could be made to the bill once it passes the Senate. I also learned that a Senate vote on HB 757 would likely happen that day.
I immediately reached out to our rapid response team, which is made up of community activists, business owners and faith leaders who are engaged and ready at a moment's notice to show up at critical moments like this vote. Support from our rapid responders was immediate, with over 40 folks showing up at the Capitol and over 200 others calling and sending emails to the their legislators in opposition to HB 757.
Rapid responders lobbied legislators, sending in messages to oppose FADA and engaging in one-on-one conversations with legislators on the detrimental effect of HB 757. Our crowd of support grew as we approached the lunch hour in anticipation of the vote on whether the bill would be engrossed and passed to the House.
After hearing testimony from Senators on both sides of the bill, the motion to engross HB 757 was voted favorably in a 36-19 vote with the official bill language moving forward with no opportunity for further amendments. The disappointment among the crowd was visible as rapid responders fired off emails to legislators and others stood shaking their heads in disbelief in how fast this discriminatory bill was moving.
During our lunch hour, we received semi-good news that although the Senate would surely vote on FADA, the House had completed their business for the day and adjourned until Monday.
Returning from lunch, we all made our way back over to the Capitol where the HB 757 sponsor, Sen. Greg Kirk, provided testimony of the so-called “protections” the bill would provide for religious organizations. Following Sen. Kirk’s remarks on the bill, we heard from a number of Senators in opposition to the bill’s passage, including Senators Elena Parents and Emanuel Jones. Sen. Jones pointedly asked Sen. Kirk if HB 757 would protect groups like the Klu Klux Klan in discriminating to which Sen. Kirk conceded it would. Visibly upset about Sen. Jones’ question, Sen. Kirk compared, referring to Beyonce’s Superbowl performance, the Black Panther Party to the KKK. The gathered crowd gasped audibly at Sen. Kirk’s comparison which sent off a media firestorm, which he later remarked that his words were confused by the media.
In the third hour of post-lunch testimony, we heard testimony from more Senators in opposition to HB 757, including Senator Nan Orrock, who remarked that the economic impact would be devastating to Georgia’s economy and in contrary to what the business community wants. The Senator also cited the over 300 plus businesses signed on to support LGBT equality under Georgia Prospers.
Nearing the fourth hour of testimony, the time had come for whether or not the Senate would pass HB 757. As more folks gathered around the television monitors, the room fell silent in anticipation of the marker board numbers being presented. The Senate passed HB 757 in a 38-14 vote.
The only saving grace of the day would be that the House would not likely tackle the bill until the next week. Most of the crowd remained, in utter disbelief that Georgia could possibly open the floodgates to those using “religious beliefs” as a shield of protection to discriminate.
After debriefing with Georgia Unites and rapid responders, we all exited the Capitol in preparation for next week’s big fight under the Gold Dome.
Above: Executive Director, Jeff Graham of Georgia Equality and HRC’s South Regional Field Organizer, Hope Jackson.
Below: Georgia Unites Against Discrimination and rapid responders take a lunch break to re-energize.
Below: Vote ticker results of the Senate vote to pass HB 757.
Below: Georgia Unites and Rapid Responders await the Senate vote on HB 757.
Below: Rapid Responder, Colton Griffin talks with Sen. Josh McKoon about why he should oppose HB 757.