- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

ATLANTA (AP) - The Latest on the governor’s veto of the religious exemptions bill (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

The leader of Georgia’s largest gay-rights advocacy organization says the debate of a religious freedom bill is a reminder that LGBT Georgians are not covered by nondiscrimination laws in the state.

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham says the organization is celebrating a “hard-fought victory” after Deal announced plans to veto the bill but will continue working on laws that would protect LGBT citizens. Graham says in a statement that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people should have that protection in employment, housing and other services.

Rep. Rich Golick, a Smyrna Republican, proposed a bill this year preventing businesses from discriminating based on race, country of origin or religion. The bill didn’t receive a floor vote. Georgia is one of five states without a so-called “public accommodation” law.

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12:45 p.m.

Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle is standing by a bill protecting people acting on their religion, including opponents of same-sex marriage.

Cagle, a Republican, says in a statement that the bill struck the “right balance.” He says the state should take an active role in protecting religious belief and said that has been lost in “hyperbole and criticism.”

Cagle’s spokesman Adam Sweat says he’s not aware of any discussion about a special session.

Opponents of the measure said it would trump any local ordinances preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.

Cagle says the state’s reputation as welcoming to business is important but so is individuals’ right to practice their faith.

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12:15 p.m.

Georgia House of Representatives Speaker David Ralston said he knew Gov. Nathan Deal’s decision to veto the religious exemption bill was not an easy one, but said he still supports the measure.

Ralston, a Republican from Blue Ridge, said in a statement that he shares the same concerns mentioned by Deal.

However, Ralston also said it is regrettable that the merits of the bill have been ignored by critics who had not taken the time to read the bill or understand the legal issues involved.

Following Deal’s news conference on Monday, Ralston said he insisted throughout this entire debate that any measure passed must not only protect the free exercise of religion and faith-based organizations, but also include clear anti-discriminatory language.

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11:40 a.m.

Georgia business leaders are celebrating following Gov. Nathan Deal’s announcement that he plans to veto the religious exemptions bill.

Bill Leahy, state president of AT&T; Georgia, applauded Deal’s decision announced Monday, saying in a statement that diversity and inclusion are important parts of the company’s culture and operations. Other sectors, such as film and professional sports, pressured Deal to veto the measure.

William Pate, president and CEO of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, also released a statement saying Deal’s decision will help the state sustain its vibrant business climate and benefit all Georgians in the future.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce also said the governor made it clear that Georgians value both rich faith traditions and the state’s place as a global destination for businesses and visitors alike.

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11:10 a.m.

A chief supporter of legislation shielding same-sex marriage opponents says he will discuss the possibility of a special session with colleagues.

Georgia’s General Assembly has left the Capitol for the year, adjourning after midnight on Thursday. Lawmakers can ask the governor to convene a special session, but need a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate.

Overriding a governor’s veto requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber. Republicans don’t hold that margin in either the House or Senate, and all Democrats voted against the bill. Several Republicans in the Senate and one in the House also voted no.

Representatives for House Speaker David Ralston and Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle didn’t immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Sen. Josh McKoon, a Columbus Republican, says he was disappointed by Deal’s decision.

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10:50 a.m.

Gov. Nathan Deal called the bill that would have allowed clergy to refuse performing gay marriage and protecting people who refuse to attend the ceremonies “a bill that has generated many feelings, many of them very intense.”

Deal said its supporters say the measure attempted to “enumerate actions people of faith shall not be required to take or perform.”

But he said he was not aware of what he called “a single instance of any of those things occurring in the state of Georgia” that the bill sought to prevent.

He said he could have supported the bill if it had passed in its original form, but said he had concerns about other versions of the bill.

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10:20 a.m.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal says he will veto legislation allowing clergy to refuse performing gay marriage and protecting people who refuse to attend the ceremonies.

The Republican announced his decision on Monday.

Republican majorities passed the bill to broadly protect people acting on their religion. It also would have protected clergy who won’t perform gay marriages and people who won’t attend a wedding for religious reasons.

Churches and affiliated religious groups also could have declined to serve or hire someone based on their faith.

The bill’s opponents said it excused discrimination and could trample local ordinances protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Coca-Cola and other big-name Georgia companies joined the NFL, prominent Hollywood figures and film studios urging Deal to reject the proposal. Some threatened to boycott the state if Deal didn’t veto.

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This story has been corrected to say that Georgia’s governor will veto the bill. Previous versions of this story said Gov. Nathan Deal had vetoed the bill.

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