Delta Air Lines has denounced legislation that would permit businesses to cite religion in refusing to serve gays, saying proposals in Georgia and Arizona would cause “significant harm” and “result in job losses.”
The company, which is Atlanta’s largest employer and one of the biggest private companies in Georgia, joins the likes of Apple, American Airlines and Marriott in opposing such measures.
Arizonans are awaiting Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision on whether to sign or veto legislation that would bolster business owners’ rights to cite their religion as a defense in discrimination lawsuits. Civil rights group have criticized SB 1062 for protecting businesses that refuse to serve gays and lesbians. Brewer has until Friday to decide.
Similar measures are working their way through the Georgia Legislature. A committee hearing on one of the bills, HB 1023, was scheduled for Tuesday but the hearing was postponed until Wednesday, then canceled altogether, according to gay rights group Georgia Equality. The other measure, SB 377, is awaiting a vote before the full Senate and must pass the chamber by Monday to stay alive.
Critics have slammed HB 1023 and SB 377 as opening “a Pandora's box of discrimination and anti-civil behavior.” More than 20,000 people had signed an online petition against the measures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Georgia’s measures have bipartisan support -- unlike Arizona's bill, which was supported only by Republicans, some of whom are now urging the governor to veto the bill.
The measures are based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed in 1993, which requires a government to show that a compelling interest is served when enforcing a law that causes a substantial burden on an individual's religious freedom.
More than two dozen state governments hold themselves to a similar standard.
In a statement Tuesday night, Delta said it was deeply concerned about the bills.
“If passed into law, these proposals would cause significant harm to many people and will result in job losses,” the statement said. “They would also violate Delta's core values of mutual respect and dignity.”
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, which said it supported the federal law, criticized HB 1023 for requiring an individual to face a “burden” rather than a “substantial burden.” SB 377 uses the tougher "substantial burden" standard.
Georgia, like Arizona, doesn't prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but legal experts say conservatives are worried that might change. Atlanta, which constitutes about 5% of Georgia's population, includes sexual orientation and gender identity in all of its anti-discrimination ordinances.
In Arizona, some foes of the legislation have threatened to boycott the state if the bill becomes law. That possibility worries some companies and business organizations, which have urged a veto. Business owners remember all too well the boycotts triggered by an earlier measure aimed at immigrants in the country illegally.
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