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Nathan Deal Faces Stark Choice: Partisanship or Prosperity?

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 22/03/2016 Todd Sears

On Wednesday the Georgia House of Representatives passed HB 757, despite widespread opposition from Georgia businesses. Many observers thought the bill would die when the legislative session ended next week, but partisan politics seem to have prevailed over economic common sense.
Promoted as a protection of religious freedoms, the bill actually creates a license to discriminate. It now moves to the desk of Governor Nathan Deal. He should veto it.
I grew up in North Carolina, and went to school in Virginia and in Raleigh-Durham, so I have great respect and appreciation for Southern hospitality. My parents now live outside Atlanta, and whenever I visit, I'm touched by the welcome I receive from their friends and neighbors. I can't count the number of times I've heard the phrase "y'all come back now" after settling up the check. Hospitality is one of the South's greatest and most underrated economic assets, but the fact that states around the region are considering laws like HB 757 undermines the South's well-deserved reputation for warmth.
The law Governor Deal is considering is less broad than the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) the Georgia State Senate passed in February, but it's still a step backwards. Similar to the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that caused a national uproar when it was passed in Indiana last year, Georgia's FADA would have allowed purveyors of goods and services to refuse service to individuals under the guise of religious freedom.  Businesses that cited "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction" to discriminate against LGBT people would be free to do so.
The amended version of HB 757 that passed on Wednesday protects "faith-based organizations" that choose to deny services or employment on the basis of a "sincerely held religious belief" about marriage. Faith-based organizations are defined as churches, religious missions, and schools, but the language is broad enough that LGBT advocates believe it could also be found to apply to businesses and hospitals.
Laws like this are wolves in sheep's clothing. While legislators who vote for them say that they're working to protect business interests, laws that legalize discrimination harm economies. When Indiana passed its RFRA, the resulting uproar led by the business community cost Indianapolis more than $60 million in lost tourism revenues alone. The state's reputation still hasn't recovered.
There's no question why many of Georgia's most iconic brands and largest employers, including The Coca-Cola Company, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, SunTrust Banks, and UPS, have banded together to form a business coalition, Georgia Prospers, that aims to ensure that the state remains "an open and inclusive home for all."  In joining the coalition, corporations have sent a strong signal that discrimination has no place in Georgia.
And they're not alone: many other companies doing business in the state have publicized their opposition to such legislation. The chief executives of Dell, Salesforce, Unilever, and Virgin were all vocal in their opposition to the bill passed last month. Microsoft president Brad Sears tweeted about his frustration with Georgia's FADA, saying that he hoped that Georgia would remain hospitable and "a great place to do business."
The economic impact of such legislation is real and could be catastrophic for the state: separate studies from the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau estimate that such legislation could cause cost the state economy $2 billion.
A few weeks ago, Governor Deal stood up in strong opposition to laws that legalize discrimination, saying: "I don't think we have to have anything that allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith," The governor, a conservative South Baptist, later said that the Bible taught him not to "discriminate unduly against anyone of the basis of our own religious beliefs."
Now that a bill enshrining a religious right to discriminate awaits his signature, I hope Governor Deal has the courage of his convictions. By vetoing HB 757, he'll be choosing prosperity and hospitality over partisanship and bias. Georgia should continue to welcome everyone. "Y'all come back now," should continue to ring true.

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