The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gay rights group wants Hollywood to walk if Georgia enacts religious-liberty bill

Religious freedom proposals are being weighed in nearly a dozen states after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. (Video: Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)

A leading gay rights group wants Hollywood studios to join other corporations in threatening to withhold business from Georgia should the state pass a religious-liberty bill.

The measure, approved by the state legislature last week, needs only the governor’s signature to become law. It would grant religious organizations the right to deny employment and use of facilities based on religious beliefs or practices.

Opponents, including gay rights supporters and many large corporations, describe the bill as discriminatory. Proponents say the opposite, arguing that it is prejudicial to force religious groups and individuals to act against their beliefs.

On Saturday, Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights behemoth Human Rights Campaign, called on Hollywood to threaten to cease work in the state, as some businesses have already done.

“Join us as we urge TV and film studios, directors and producers, to commit to locating no further productions in the state of Georgia if this bill becomes law,” Griffin said at the group’s Los Angeles Gala Dinner.

In 2014, research firm FilmL.A. identified Georgia as the third-largest state to host film production, behind California and New York. Georgia reported $1.7 billion in spending in the state on film and television productions in the 2015 fiscal year.

Griffin issued his call one day after the National Football League suggested that such a law in Georgia could affect Atlanta’s attempts to host the Super Bowl.

“NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement. “Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites.”

The bill protects religious leaders from being forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies and individuals from being forced to attend such events. It also allows faith-based organizations to deny use of their facilities for any event they find “objectionable” and exempts them from having to hire or retain any employee whose religious beliefs or practices differ from those of the organization.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) last week said he was “pleasantly surprised” that lawmakers had reached a compromise on the bill, which he earlier spoke out against. But the governor did not make clear whether he intended to sign it into law, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I have heard from both sides, and I’m sure I’ll continue to hear from both sides,” he said. “I will take their opinions into consideration, and I’ll do what I’m required to do, which is to make the difficult decision on a very difficult subject.”

Earlier this month, Deal said he would veto any measure that legalized discrimination.

The bill has drawn comparisons to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which attracted national attention to that state last year.

And, just as with that bill, the Georgia measure has elicited a strong response from corporate America.

The NFL is far from the only large business to enter the debate — it’s not even the only sports organization to do so. The NCAA and the Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks each issued statements, some of them more strongly worded than the NFL’s.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the bill “undermines” his and the state’s diverse and inclusive principles and “would have long-lasting negative impacts.” The Braves in a statement called the bill “detrimental to our community and bad for Georgia.”

Other large corporations have spoken out against the measure, too.

CEOs oppose Ga. push to let faith-based groups refuse certain services

Georgia Prospers, a coalition of several hundred businesses urging Deal to veto the measure, counts as members several Fortune 500 corporations, including AIG, Bank of America, Chase, Delta Air Lines, Google, Home Depot, Honeywell, IBM, Live Nation, Marriott, Microsoft, Nordstrom, PNC, Salesforce, SunTrust, Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, UPS, Verizon and Wells Fargo.

Tech giant Apple has also urged the governor to veto the measure.

Some businesses, led by Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, have suggested signing the bill into law may result in lost business for the state.

Proponents of the measure say they are simply seeking the right to practice their faith without restriction.

“All Georgia citizens, organizations and businesses need protection from adverse legislation that would infringe upon their religious beliefs regarding marriage, defined in the Bible as the union of one man and one woman,” J. Robert White, executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said in a statement last month, urging passage of an earlier version of the measure. “It is wrong to accuse persons of discrimination who live and conduct their businesses according to their deeply held religious beliefs.”

Deal has said he plans to review the measure next month.

This post has been updated.