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Editor's Note: Gays, God, and the almighty dollar 

GEORGIA DODGED a bullet this year, through the good graces of Arizona and Delta Airlines. And possibly Paula Deen.

The so-called “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” is dormant for the remainder of the Georgia General Assembly session this year, our august elected officials apparently having had an unusual attack of common sense.

The Peach State’s steady slide into national laughingstock status has stalled, at least for now.

Arizona provided an excellent test case, with a result clear enough even for our stubborn Tea Party overlords to see clearly. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, at one time a darling of the conservative movement, vetoed her state’s nearly identical version of the bill.

Her veto came only after enormous pressure from corporate interests, including the NFL, which made it clear they wouldn’t hesitate to move Super Bowl XLIX out of Arizona should the bill become law.

(Not a hypothetical: Arizona lost one Super Bowl already, in 1993 when it refused to institute an MLK holiday.)

Capping an increasingly surreal week, our own Paula Deen again jammed her foot directly into her mouth in a cringeworthy People interview, where she compared herself to Michael Sam, “that black football player who recently came out.”

I doubt Deen intended to be political—especially since the interview was likely done long before the anti-gay legislation hit the national radar—but her latest gaffe just reinforced the headwinds against the bill.

I’ve learned to never look a gift horse in the mouth, so anything that leads to the demise of this kind of misguided, misanthropic legislation is a good thing.

But it’s important to look at why and how the Georgia version met its demise before it could even reach Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk.

The origin of the “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act” comes not from a burning, unquenchable desire to serve God, but simply from attempts to refuse service to gay couples planning weddings. It’s bigotry gussied up as freedom.

In one case, a baker refused to bake a gay couple’s wedding cake. The others: a florist refusing to provide flowers and a photographer refusing to shoot a gay wedding.

The refusals were on the basis of religious mores, but were also all performed during private business transactions — the “freedom” in the bill’s title being the freedom to base one’s private business decisions on one’s private core beliefs.

And in a perfect irony, that’s what killed the bill: Corporations making it clear that they’d in turn base their own long-term decisions about who they’d do business with on their own corporate core beliefs.

In the words of Delta Airlines’ statement:

“If passed into law, these proposals would cause significant harm to many people and will result in job losses. They would also violate Delta’s core values of mutual respect and dignity shared by our 80,000 employees worldwide and the 165 million customers we serve every year.”

LGBT citizens are, generally speaking, fairly affluent, successful, and upwardly mobile compared to the general population. No news flash there.

Unlike those mired in poverty and unlike underprivileged minorities, gay and lesbian citizens wield a lot of leverage where it counts most in America: The marketplace.

Make no mistake, it was capitalism which killed these onerous bills, not politicians having a collective epiphany about inclusivity and open-mindedness.

Conservatives are correct that religious freedom is integral to the idea of America. But religious freedom has always meant different things to different Americans — precisely why the religious guarantee of the First Amendment is mainly a negative one, a promise not to establish a state religion.

Religious freedom in and of itself is a really poor basis for writing laws—something the Founders anticipated and later generations are apparently still learning.

The American concept of religious freedom is downright devilish to boil down to written legislation, one reason why astute lawmakers rarely attempt to do so.

Maryland was the first colony based on religious freedom, specifically as a haven for Catholics. Massachusetts was established by religious conservatives escaping Anglicans and Catholics. Pennsylvania had full and open tolerance of all religions. Despite being based on slave labor, the Carolina colony had extraordinary religious freedom, since it was founded purely for commercial purposes, i.e., to make money.

As for Georgia, Gen. James Oglethorpe banned Catholicism here, but mostly due to politics: His mission was to form a military buffer against Great Britain’s enemies in the New World, Spain and France—both Catholic countries. No pesky spies that way.

In keeping with our original bakery motif, the only remotely solid conclusion we can make is that religious freedom in America is pretty much whatever you make of it. But it usually boils down to everyone at least having a wedding cake of their own — rather than using their freedom to take someone else’s wedding cake away.

The bigger question, one much more uncomfortable to ask and difficult to answer, is what happens to those who can’t afford their figurative piece of the pie at all?

What big multinational company comes to the defense of the poor and the sick when the chips are down?

In Atlanta, legislators dropped the anti-gay bill like a hot potato. But they’ve taken up others that also discriminate.

One bill prohibits any abortion coverage through any Obamacare health care exchange in Georgia, even in instances of rape and incest. It also eliminates abortion coverage for anyone in the state employee’s health care plan.

That bill is also based on “religious freedom.” Crickets from Delta Airlines.

Another bill forbids any state participation in an Obamacare exchange. (It’s the “Health Care Freedom Act.” Sound familiar?) Not a peep from the NFL or The Home Depot about that one.

And speaking of religious freedom—literally—get a load of this: Another bill would permit gun owners to bring their weapons into church, unless the church specifically posts signs forbidding it. With all this talk of religious freedom, I guess someone totally forgot about freedom for actual churches, eh?

I join the majority of you in being happy to see the discriminatory anti-gay bills die the legislative death they deserve.

But let’s not pat ourselves on the back too hard. Until the working poor and the sick and all those on the short end of America’s wealth inequality stick also have the NFL and Delta Airlines sticking up for them, we still have a long way to go.

About The Author

Jim Morekis

Jim Morekis

Bio:
A native Savannahian, Jim has been editor-in-chief of Connect Savannah for ten years. The University of Georgia graduate is also a travel writer, authoring regional guides in the Moon handbook series... more

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