ATLANTA — State Sen. Harold Jones will be honored Saturday in Atlanta by a gay rights group for his efforts to block the so-called religious liberty bill in the Georgia Legislature.
The Augusta Democrat’s arguments didn’t stop the Republican majority from passing the bill, which Gov. Nathan Deal later vetoed.
Drawing on his legal training as a lawyer, Jones argued that the bill would open the door to discrimination against married gay couples, though supporters said it would merely prevent the government from forcing religious organizations and any nonprofits they operate from having to violate their own principles.
Jones and other opponents of the bill say the only reason religious conservatives are pushing for it is to weaken the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage because it would keep cities and counties from passing broader anti-discrimination housing measures.
The gay-rights group Georgia Equality announced Wednesday that it has selected Jones for its Guiding Star award because he was one of two senators that the Democratic caucus chose to speak during debate on the bill. Jones has also been supportive in other ways of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, according to Jeff Graham, the executive director of Georgia Equality.
“Whether it is a passionate floor speech against legislation that would discriminate against LGBT Georgians or by showing up at LGBT events in the Augusta area, he is proving to be a stalwart ally of a community that too often struggles to find allies in more rural parts of our state,” Graham said.
Jones said that despite representing a district far from Atlanta that is majority black, a group that polls show is among the least supportive of gay marriage, he’s heard no objections to his stance.
“I’ve gotten no blowback on that at all,” he said.
Sponsors of the “religious freedom” bill have said they will try again next year.
Jones will get the award a week after 49 people were killed and dozens others wounded in a shooting in an Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub. He said the shooting has many dimensions that make a simple solution elusive – from gun control to mental health to immigration to terrorism to discrimination against gays.
“I don’t know that there is one policy prescription,” he said. “There are very many layers to it.”