- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2016

The influence of the entertainment and business lobbies was powerfully felt Monday when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal knuckled under to a tidal wave of pressure by vetoing a religious liberty bill.

Mr. Deal, a Republican, said House Bill 757, which sought to protect religious wedding vendors from participating in same-sex marriage ceremonies, was not warranted in Georgia, where no such disputes have risen — yet.

“While most people would agree that the government should not force such actions, there has not been a single instance of such taking place in Georgia,” the governor said in a statement. “If there has been any case of this type in our state it has not been called to my attention.”

In neighboring North Carolina, a similar culture war began to play out as transgender rights groups filed a lawsuit to halt the state’s bathroom bill, which they claim is discriminatory, amid more threats from big business about of a boycott of the state for not toeing the line on sexual liberation.

Two transgender people, a lesbian law professor, the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Equality North Carolina brought a lawsuit to federal court saying the law singles out gays and the transgendered for “disfavored treatment.” It also says the law violates federal equal protection rules such as Title IX, which bars discrimination on the basis of sex.

Top lawmakers in the state House and Senate dismissed the lawsuit as trying “to argue with a straight face that there is a previously undiscovered ‘right’ in the U.S. Constitution for men to use women’s bathrooms and locker rooms.”

In Georgia, Mr. Deal commended the state legislature for working to ensure that the bill did not protect bigotry, as gay rights advocates contended. But the governor concluded that — despite a revision that prohibited “invidious discrimination” — it still presented “too great a risk to take.”

He vetoed the bill after several major corporations, including Walt Disney Co., the National Football League and Intel, made clear that it would impair their ability to do business in Georgia.

A spokesman for Disney, which has filmed Marvel films such as “Ant-Man,” “Captain America: Civil War” and “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” in Atlanta, said the company would “plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”

The NFL hinted that the measure could threaten any Atlanta bid to host a Super Bowl. Other companies that urged Mr. Deal to veto the legislation included Apple, Time Warner and Salesforce.

Although Mr. Deal did not mention lobbying from big business in his reasoning for the veto, others read between the lines.

Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, said the governor “caved to pressure from large corporations and special interests.” He also accused Hollywood of hypocrisy for forcing its values on other companies that also want to work according to their beliefs.

“The hypocrisy of Hollywood, the NFL and the big business lobby in this case is astounding,” Mr. Anderson said in a statement. “They want to freely operate in Georgia according to their values, but they don’t want small-business competitors to be free to do the same.”

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who issued a clarion call for Hollywood to boycott Georgia if the bill became law, said Mr. Deal heard the voices of the entertainment industry.

“The message to Gov. Nathan Deal was loud and clear: This deplorable legislation was bad for his constituents, bad for business and bad for Georgia’s future,” Mr. Griffin said.

“Thankfully, Gov. Deal listened to the voices of Georgians, civil rights organizations, as well as the many leaders in the entertainment industry and in the private sector who strongly condemned this deplorable attack on the fundamental rights of LGBT people,” he said.

Georgia is not the only state to find itself in the grips of big business in the fallout of the Supreme Court decision in June striking down state laws banning same-sex marriage.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, has invited the censure of several blue-chip corporations by signing into law a bill that says sex-specific public restrooms and changing facilities must be used according to biological sex, not a person’s preferred gender identification.

The bill was passed in a single-day special session to strike down a Charlotte city ordinance to the contrary and prevent any other local government from following suit.

The law also allows people who undergo sex changes, and have their birth certificates legally changed accordingly, to use the bathroom, shower or other facility of their new sex.

“The basic expectation of privacy in the most personal of settings, a restroom or locker room, for each gender was violated by government overreach and intrusion by the mayor and city council of Charlotte,” he said in a statement explaining the signing last week.

Several companies based in North Carolina, such as PayPal, Bank of America and Dow Chemical have denounced the law, while the National Basketball Association is threatening to move the 2017 All-Star Game, now scheduled to be played in Charlotte, in the wake of the legislation.

Mr. McCrory on Monday told The Associated Press that he has “not had one corporation tell me that they’re threatening to leave.”

“There’s a very well-coordinated campaign, national campaign, which is distorting the truth, which is frankly smearing our state in an inaccurate way, and which I’m working to correct,” he said.

Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, praised Mr. McCrory for standing up for his convictions and called the threats from big business unfortunate.

“I think Gov. McCrory has done a great job by standing true to his convictions and siding for the privacy and safety of the people he’s been elected to protect,” Ms. Fiedorek said.

“I think it’s unfortunate that these companies are choosing to side in support of allowing men in bathrooms and locker rooms with women and young girls,” she said. “I would think that the privacy concerns of the people would be more important to them than advancing special interests and certain agendas.”

Ms. Fiedorek also said rhetoric from businesses hinting at boycotting the state are tantamount to “empty threats.”

“North Carolina is one of the top five states in the nation for business and economic growth, and any of these businesses threatening not to do business or to leave the state based on these dishonest attacks, they’re really only hurting themselves in the end,” she said.

But the backlash already has started.

The taxpayer-supported High Point Market Authority said Monday that dozens of companies have said they will not attend the biannual High Point furniture market in April because of the new law.

About 20,000 retail and interior design firms typically shop for new offerings at the North Carolina city’s gathering of furniture industry professionals, and calls for a boycott are spreading on social media.

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