The two best things that I can say about the 2016 Georgia General Assembly are that it could have been worse, and that now it’s over.
Frankly, given some of the legislation that almost became law, or almost didn’t, it could have been a lot, lot worse. Even in the session’s final hours, Georgia’s finest were still coming up with new feats of surpassing stupidity and self-destruction that make you shake your head in amazement.
But with legislators leaving town, Gov. Nathan Deal still has considerable cleanup work to accomplish, including a decision on whether to sign or veto House Bill 757, the anti-gay piece of legislation disguised as a “religious liberty” bill. I may be proved wrong, but at this point I’d be surprised verging on shocked if Deal signs the bill into law. If he really intended to take that step, he would have done so fairly quickly, before allowing opposition to build.
Because opposition has built. Companies and organizations ranging from the NFL to Disney have warned state leaders about the economic consequences about enacting the law, with the future of the state’s thriving movie business almost certainly at stake. The hundreds of films being shot here, the major movie studios already operating or planned here — all that could be endangered with a simple mistaken swoop of the governor’s pen. I doubt that’s going to happen.
And yes, we ought to be ashamed that such a law couldn’t be defeated on its merits, as an effort to perpetuate second-class citizenship for some of our fellow Georgians. It ought to trouble us that fear of economic pain, not a commitment to equality, has become the most effective argument against it and that if we end up doing the right thing, it’s because of pressure exerted by groups and companies outside Georgia, not by our own sense of decency. Yes, that ought to bother us.
Then again, at least we’re not North Carolina. If there was any real doubt about what the overall debate is really about, our neighbors to the north have crystallized the issue nicely.
On Wednesday, Gov. Pat McCrory called the state Legislature into an emergency special session for one purpose: Overruling a local ordinance adopted by the city of Charlotte that would protect gay, lesbian and transgender citizens from discrimination. The ordinance — due to take effect April 1 — also allowed transgender citizens to use restrooms of their identified gender, and that became the rallying point of anti-gay activists.
The main argument — I kid you not — was that transgender citizens would use the Charlotte ordinance to sneak into restrooms where they would then commit sex crimes on women, children and the elderly. The fact that no one could cite a case in which that had actually happened, not just in North Carolina but anywhere in the county, did not obviate the need for a special session and a new law to ensure that it would not happen in the future. Nor did the obvious fact that someone who is intent on committing a sex crime isn’t going to be deterred by the minor obstacle of a sign on a restroom door.
Perhaps most telling, the oh-so-pressing transgender restroom issue could have been resolved on its own, without broader legislation forbidding local governments from offering any legal protection whatsoever to gay and lesbian citizens. But that wasn’t the course taken by North Carolina. The one-day session opened, the House passed a bill outlawing all such local legislation, it went to the Senate, where Democrats walked out in protest and Republicans approved the legislation, and by 10 p.m. that night McCrory had signed it into law.
Like I said, Georgia’s legislative session could have been worse.
Do the right thing, Gov. Deal. Keep your promise.