North Carolina and Georgia – both Southern states with Republican governors and GOP-dominated legislatures – have somehow ended up with very different outcomes on an issue near and dear to the hearts of social conservatives.
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory called the bluff of LGBT activists by signing into law a bill that will nullify a Charlotte city ordinance and require transgender men to use bathrooms that align with their biological gender, not the gender with which they "identify." LGBT activists are livid but McCrory, who is running for re-election, has decided to stand with the majority in his state's voters who want public restrooms to remain the way they've always been – one for men and one for women as defined by biological science.
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"This political correctness has gone amok," McCrory told NBC News.
The governor said "left-wing activist groups" are constructing a "political theater" by threatening businesses over the law.
Director Rob Reiner said he will not film anymore movies in North Carolina while encouraging his Hollywood friends to also boycott the state, which, like Georgia, offers generous tax incentives for movie-makers not available in California.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called the North Carolina law a "national embarrassment" and banned all non-essential travel by state officials to the Tar Heel state.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was faced with a similar choice: To face down the LGBT activists and the forces of political correctness or bend to their demands.
Deal was handed a bill Monday that overwhelmingly passed both houses of the Georgia Legislature. House Bill 757 would protect the religious freedom of clergy and offered some protection for businesses against state and local governments that might at some point try to force them to violate their firmly held religious beliefs with regard to participating in same-sex wedding ceremonies and events.
The bill states that religious officials "shall not be required to perform marriages ceremonies, perform rites or administer sacraments in violation of other legal right to free exercise of religion."
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It also says that "no individual shall be required to attend the solemnization of a marriage, performance of rites, or administration of sacraments in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion."
The bill would also exempt faith-based organizations from anti-discrimination laws if they believed such a law would violate their religious conscience.
Deal buckled under pressure from the NFL, NBA, Home Depot, Apple, Delta Airlines, Coca-Cola and Disney, along with the Hollywood film industry.
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The Georgia bill contained many of the same protections found in laws already on the books in some 30 other states, said its backers.
Deal vetoed the bill, saying it "didn’t reflect Georgia’s image" as a state full of "warm, friendly and loving people." This despite polls that showed two-thirds of Georgians supported the bill.
Deal's press secretary, Jen Talaber, did not respond to WND's requests for comment Tuesday.
Critics say it's no secret that Deal has been wooing the NFL to bring the Super Bowl to Atlanta in 2019 or 2020.
"Deal's goal is to get the Super Bowl and the Final Four. Nobody living outside of Atlanta gives two hoots about the Super Bowl but the corporations want it," said Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project and a native Georgian.
Robbins wondered if Deal would agree to limit the freedom of the press to get the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Or what about freedom of speech or the right to bear arms?
"Which of the Bill of Rights would he be willing to sell or trade away for the Super Bowl?" Robbins asks.
She said religious freedom advocates would not be putting this issue aside.
"The primaries are coming up at the end of May, so when voter guides come out, the candidates are going to have to answer, 'Will you vote to override Gov. Deal's veto of the religious liberty law?'
"So the governor thinks we can put this behind us now and move onto something else. Well, no. We're not giving up on this. If we have to bring it up every year, that's what we will do."
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said Georgia's bill was actually very moderate when compared to the 30 other state religious-liberty laws. But he said corporations were responding to bare-knuckle pressure from LGBT activist groups.
"I would be surprised if anybody in those corporations read the bill, or understood what the bill was about," Sprigg told WND. "You had LGBT groups lying about the bill, and you had Gov. Deal and the corporations buying, accepting the lies, and that's basically why he vetoed it."
Deal claimed in a press conference Monday that his decision had nothing to do with pressure from corporations.
"He claims he's not responding to corporate pressure, but I don't believe that for a second," Sprigg said. "I think he is responding to the pressure and the threats of boycotts and so forth. I don't think any of those corporations would make good on those threats."
Case in point: Voters in the city of Houston repealed a non-discrimination bill that would have allowed transgender men to enter women's bathrooms last year in the face of threats from the NCAA that it would pull the Final Four college basketball tournament from Houston.
The fact that the Final Four will go on as scheduled in Houston next week is proof that most of the boycott threats are just that – empty threats.
"After Houston voters repealed their non-discrimination laws, well, the Final Four is going to be held in Houston next week anyway," Sprigg said. "All the language, all the blowing wind about boycotts are not going to take place."
Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum and an activist in the culture wars for more than 50 years, said the corporations are coming down on the wrong side of history, and Gov. Deal should not have caved to their pressure.
"It's disgraceful. Why are the corporations so eager to kill it? You don't find many economic reasons," she said, when such a small percentage of the population, especially in a conservative state like Georgia, is in favor of kowtowing to the LGBT agenda.
So what would Schlafly tell the corporate titans if she had their ear?
"Well, they ought to get together, and they ought to say, 'Religious liberty is one of our founding principles, and we need to stand for that,'" she said. "It's in the Bill of Rights."
She realizes this would not assuage radical LGBT activists.
"It's not just about freedom and equality for them; it's an attempt to force the rest of us to go along with their views," she said. "There are so many things going wrong in the country now. Nobody wants to fight the gay lobby. They're just so ugly in their tactics. They use intimidation."
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Override of governor's veto unlikely
Georgia State Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus, is one of the bill's most ardent backers. He said there's a lot of talk about calling the Georgia Legislature back to Atlanta for a special session to override Deal's veto.
But the chances of that happening are a slim. It would require three-fifths or 108 signatures to call lawmakers back to the Capitol and then 125 votes to override.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 104-65.
"I can't tell you if that level of support exists," McKoon told WND. "But we will continue to press the governor and reintroduce the bill in January."
Among the four Republicans who voted against the bill was Rep. Rich Golick of Smyrna. He is an attorney for Allstate Insurance and a devout Catholic, leading some to speculate that he may have been influenced to vote against the religious liberty bill by his employer. Golick could not be reached for comment.
McKoon said he could only speculate on why Deal vetoed the bill.
"The governor has made a big deal about Georgia being the number-one place to do business in these rankings and these magazines, so obviously that's something he's guarded very diligently," he said. "It's strange that in the campaign he ran during the primary he said he was more conservative on social issues than his opponent, so it's concerning that he's now turned his back on the faith community. He caved to the pressure he was feeling from the corporations."
Deal caved while McCrory stood firm against the corporate pressure on him to veto the LGBT bathroom bill in North Carolina.
"I'd say the big difference is Pat McCory has to get re-elected this year and Nathan Deal is in his last term. He's 74 years old and never running for anything again, so he had a free hand to play with and from that perspective I thought maybe that could be good because he could take a strong stand and not be worried about the pressures (from LGBT and corporations)," McKoon said. "But obviously it cut in the other direction."
The Rev. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan's Purse and son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham, said on his Facebook page that Deal "sold out" the state of Georgia:
"Republican Governor Nathan Deal has sold out the state of Georgia. By vetoing the Free Exercise Protection Act, he warmly welcomed the LGBT community and in effect told people of faith that they take second place. House Bill 757 would have protected pastors from having to perform same-sex marriages and would have protected churches from being forced to use their facilities for ceremonies against their religious beliefs. This conservative governor has caved in to pressure from the NFL and major corporations and is now a part of backing the LGBT agenda. This is a dark hour in Nathan Deal’s long political career."
Bowing to 'corporate bullies'
Robbins, with the American Principles Project, said Deal bowed to "corporate bullies" who would stomp all over not only conservative principles but American principles.
She said Georgia's House Bill 757 is a "reasonable bill" that was crafted to address the governor's concerns while protecting Georgia's faith community from government discrimination. Polling data showed two-thirds of Georgians supported the bill.
So why did Deal, a Democrat earlier in his political career, veto it?
"I can only speculate, but Gov. Deal has always been much more attuned to the wishes of the big corporations than he has to the wishes of the people," Robbins said. "He is sort of controlled by the Chamber of Commerce, and the chamber, of course, no longer represents the broader interests of business. They could care less about the struggling mom and pop. They're just concerned about keeping Delta, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and the mega-corporations happy. And this time, we had Disney piling on as well. I think they run a theme park in Florida, and, of course, Florida has a religious liberty law."
Corporations 'drip with hypocrisy'
Robbins said companies like Coca-Cola and Delta have no problem doing business in the Islamic world, where the LGBT community is ruthlessly persecuted.
"All these companies have no problem doing business in Middle Eastern countries where they execute homosexuals, but they can't go this far for religious liberty in Georgia, so the hypocrisy just drips from their veins," Robbins said. "But for the governor to go along with what the corporations wanted rather than what the people of Georgia wanted is really just shameful."
The NFL's threat to torpedo Atlanta's bid for the Super Bowl did not seem legitimate to Robbins.
"The other cities in contention for the Super Bowl are Miami, Tampa and New Orleans, and they are in states that have religious liberty laws," she said. "So if companies say we are not going to do business in states that have religious liberty laws, they are going to be hard-pressed to stay in business because 30 states have some form of religious liberty protection."
In fact, the Georgia bill is in some ways weaker than many of the other states' laws. For instance, it contains a clause stipulating the state can't discriminate against anyone the federal laws protect.
The bill contains another clause that essentially says no one can be forced to do anything that violates their deeply held religious beliefs, and the government cannot penalize them, "but that part of the Georgia bill doesn't cover businesses," she said. "It only applies to faith-based organizations."
And the term "faith-based organization" was narrowly defined to include only churches, schools and nonprofits directly tied to a church group.
"That portion geared toward marriage does not specifically protect the business community – only faith-based organizations," Robbins said. "But businesses are covered by the other part of the Georgia bill, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which is what we have had in federal law for over 20 years and what that does is it gives businesses a day in court to make the government prove they have a compelling interest (to violate their religious conscience) and that they had no other way of accomplishing that compelling interest."
But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that RFRA only applies to federal law, not state and local laws. It was this ruling that forced states to pass their own religious liberty laws to protect businesses against cities like Atlanta that have passed "non-discrimination" ordinances.
She said Georgia is the only state in the South that has not passed such a law.
"If Deal had signed HB 757, then every business in Georgia could have gone into court and said you can't force me to do this unless the government shows a 'compelling interest.'"
LGBT activists want more than equal rights
So the issue is not about discrimination, Robbins said.
"What is going on is that the left and specifically the LGBT segment of the left, is determined to enforce uniformity of belief. It's not enough that the law allows them the same rights and protections for marriage," she said. "Everyone else has to fall in line and to not only shut up, but they have to celebrate what they want to do.
"They are insatiable," Robbins said of the LGBT lobby. "They are never satisfied. When they smell blood in the water, they will come back harder next time. So they now know that Gov. Deal can be intimidated."
North Carolina's situation is different.
Sprigg said North Carolina lawmakers worked with McCrory on a strategy to pass the bill quickly, whereas Georgia lawmakers dawdled.
"I think in North Carolina the advocates were committed from the beginning. They had a strategy from the beginning. They were going to accomplish this, and they passed a bill in one day, and the governor signed it that night," Sprigg said. "So they're done with it. They managed to avoid the constant sort of slow drip, drip, drip of media coverage by handling the issue quickly. That was a key difference in why they were successful in North Carolina."
Robbins said Deal, who was personally lobbied by Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, may live to regret his decision. Atlanta may lose its bid to win the Super Bowl regardless of his support for the LGBT cause.
But even if he wins the Super Bowl sweepstakes, there will be a price to pay.
"Long term, nobody cares about the Super Bowl," she said. "But Nathan Deal will be in the Arthur Blank luxury suite," she says, maybe with a glass of champagne, toasting and celebrating how he brought the Super Bowl to Atlanta while punting his state's faith community to the sidelines.