Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R.)
Photo credit: AJC.COM
As the State of Georgia clings to its flawed, but familiar roots, it also battles for its soul, as it attempts to earn a spot on America’s list of forward-moving metropolises, with its renowned city of Atlanta. Atlanta-based Tyler Perry has added his voice to Hollywood’s chorus urging Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal to reject a bill that discriminates against the LGBT community, House Bill 757, also known as the “religious freedom bill.” A spokesperson for the studios said Friday: “At Tyler Perry Studios, we believe in inclusion and equality for all people.”
At least nine corporations, including Disney, have expressed concern over a controversial law on the desk of Georgia’s governor. Among other things, the law would allow faith-based businesses to deny employment or service to people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. David Begnaud has more.
As of Friday, all of the following companies have spoken out against the bill: Viacom, 21st Century Fox, Lionsgate, CBS, Starz, AMC Networks (The Walking Dead is currently filmed in Georgia), Netflix, Time Warner, CBS, The Weinstein Company, Sony, Comcast/NBC Universal, MGM, STX Entertainment, and Open Road Films. Even the NFL has strongly suggested 757’s passage would take Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, scheduled to open in 2017, out of consideration to host a Super Bowl.
The legislation before Gov. Nathan Deal (R) would prevent individuals from being forced to perform or attend same-sex weddings (a right already guaranteed by the First Amendment – no one can make you attend a wedding, be it gay, straight, or whatever else). It would also allow faith-based groups, including churches and religious schools, to refuse employment and service to anyone who violates the group’s religious beliefs. It would even permit those groups to deny employment to anyone “whose religious beliefs or practices or lack of either are not in accord with the faith-based organization’s sincerely held religious belief.”
In short, the bill is the religious right’s answer to the country’s overwhelming acceptance of gay marriage, yet it has been difficult to identify the specific people behind it.
Governor Nathan Deal has taken credit for attracting new business to the state of Georgia, offering attractive tax incentives to companies moving there. The film tax credit, for example, which Georgia sweetened in 2008 by offering up to 30 percent tax credits to productions with large budgets, has made Georgia a hotbed for movie production – and cost the state’s coffers well over a quarter of a billion dollars. The governor has said it was worth the tradeoff, citing a trade industry group’s figures to back him up: The film and television industry is responsible for more than 79,000 jobs, roughly $4 billion in wages and has helped bring 120 more firms to Georgia in the last seven years.
This, of course, puts Deal in a very uncomfortable position. If he signs the religious liberty bill into law (Deal has until May 3 to decide whether or not to sign the bill), he will risk losing a significant portion of the new business he helped to bring into the state. In fiscal year 2015 alone, production companies spent $1.7 billion in the state, and since 2008, Atlanta has played backdrop to more than 140 films and TV shows, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
The spotlight is now squarely placed on Governor Nathan Deal, as he must decide whether to move his state forward, or to push it back into a less prosperous place in time.