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Georgia legislature passes controversial religious freedom bill

[JURIST] The Georgia state legislature [official website] on Thursday approved a bill [text, PDF] to allow faith-based establishments, including churches, schools and other organizations, to refuse service or employment to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs. While groups such as the Georgia Baptist Mission Board [advocacy website] see the bill as a First Amendment victory, opponents argue [CNN report] that the bill promotes discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Currently more than 400 businesses, including large corporations such as Microsoft and Virgin Atlantic, stand against the bill and could threaten Georgia's status as a leading business state. The bill must still be signed by Governor Nathan Deal [official profile], who has recently implied that he has sympathies for the LGBT community. The Georgia legislature plans [Reuters report] to conclude their session regarding the bill next week.

LGBT rights, as well as freedom of religious practice, remain controversial issues in the US. At least nineteen states have enacted some variety of religious freedom laws, most modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act [text] signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1993. The Kentucky Senate on Tuesday approved a bill [JURIST report] allowing businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians based upon their religious beliefs. Last Friday Missouri lawmakers approved a proposal [JURIST report] to provide similar religious protections to individuals and businesses in opposition to gay marriage. Following the US Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges [JURIST report] in June, Kentucky clerk Kim Davis refused to issue [JURIST report] marriage licenses, arguing that her Christian faith should exempt her from issuing the licenses to same-sex couples. Also in June North Carolina lawmakers passed SB 2, a law that permits magistrates to refuse to perform same-sex marriages on religious grounds, overriding a veto [JURIST reports] by Governor Pat McCrory.

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