Georgia Inc. and the consequences of cultural laws

By Tom Baxter

Is it a sin to take advantage of business competitors when they take a controversial moral stand? Maybe so, depending on your morality, but no one is expecting  that Georgia will turn away any business fleeing from the states which have passed laws similar to the one halted here by Gov. Nathan Deal’s veto pen.

This after all is a state in which business and morality have always been closely intertwined. Atlanta was not “too concerned” to hate, or “too good” to hate, it was “too busy to hate.” Much the same sentiment flowed last week when Deal pronounced Georgia “a welcoming state” before vetoing House Bill 757, which had been solidly opposed by corporations both inside and outside the state.

Last week, Governor Nathan Deal pronounced Georgia “a welcoming state” before vetoing House Bill 757, which had been solidly opposed by corporations both inside and outside the state. Photo Credit: Standup Georgia

Last week, Governor Nathan Deal pronounced Georgia “a welcoming state” before vetoing House Bill 757, which had been solidly opposed by corporations both inside and outside the state. Photo Credit: Standup Georgia

In the last of its several incarnations, this bill would have allowed religious organizations to deny service or employment to those who violate their “sincerely held religious belief.” It was not nearly as broad as the bill passed later in Mississippi, nor as blatant as the North Carolina law requiring people to use bathrooms of the gender on their birth certificates, but like all the bills flying under the banner of religious liberty, it was crafted in reaction to the changing cultural landscape on gay, lesbian and transexual issues, and in particular the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.

As was the case with racial issues in the Civil Rights Era, businesses that operate nationally and internationally have generally made their peace with this cultural change, and vigorously oppose any new laws that complicate the processes of buying, selling, hiring and firing in any way. This, of course, doesn’t mean the underlying issues won’t simmer for a very long time.

From a coldly political perspective, it’s generally better to cast a vote for bills like this and have them lose than to vote for them and reap the consequences of victory. You have to wonder if some of the more perspicacious of those who voted for HB 757 haven’t quietly thanked the governor for his veto.

Lawmakers in Mississippi must now defend their votes in the face of rock concert cancellations, late-night ridicule and retreating business prospects. Photo Credit: Protectthyneighbor.org

Lawmakers in Mississippi must now defend their votes in the face of rock concert cancellations, late-night ridicule and retreating business prospects. Photo Credit: Protectthyneighbor.org

Lawmakers in North Carolina and Mississippi, meanwhile, must now defend their votes in the face of rock concert cancellations, late-night ridicule and retreating business prospects. And next year, they’ll still have to up the ante. These states might complain that they are being targeted while Florida, which had a gay marriage ban on the books before the Supreme Court ruling, this year passed a law allowing preachers to refuse gay marriage. But isn’t that always the way with Florida?

For those who sincerely believe in the intent of these laws (as opposed to their legislators) there may be a contrary lesson in the history of the failed effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which concluded in 1982.

It’s not only conservatives who waste a lot of energy attempting to pass laws affecting things that are really more a matter of culture and custom. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were necessary to counter laws that had been put in place to enforce racial segregation. But the ERA has not proved necessary for women to become CEOs, movie producers or presidential candidates, and it’s arguable how much its passage would have speeded the tremendous changes which have taken place over the past few decades.

Just as the failure of the ERA has proved to be incidental to the tide of history, the passage of these “religious liberty” laws isn’t going to forestall what would have happened anyway, if the larger society accepts those changes. The battlefield, if there needs to be one, is elsewhere.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has opposed same-sex marriage and adoptions, said last week he would have vetoed the North Carolina bathroom law.

“Why do we have to write a law every time we turn around in this country?” he said. “Can’t we figure out just how to get along a little bit better and respect one another? I mean, that’s where I think we ought to be. Everybody chill out.”

That comment explains both why he won’t win the Republican presidential nomination, and why he would be elected if he did.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

3 replies
  1. GeorgiaPeach says:

    Thanks Tom.  So far I have not seen anyone explain how we decide if
    the belief is “sincerely held” or not?  And what about the person whose
    beliefs are not so sincere?  Would they still get to discriminate?Report

    Reply
  2. Dowager says:

    Thank you for clarifying this issue and helping me to understand my own mind on this broadening/receding issue.  You are absolutely right: cultural issues should not be legislated.Report

    Reply

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