There will be plenty of criticism thrown at Georgia Governor Nathan Deal for vetoing the controversial religious freedom bill on Monday, but he won’t deserve most of it. This wasn’t a fight between ideas or principles or even political opponents. This wasn’t the purehearted LGBT supporters winning a victory over evil bigotry. It wasn’t even the annoying brand of Republican capitulation we’ve seen so much in Washington. This was the only choice Deal had.
When it comes to gay rights, liberals have big business on their side. They learned the power of this alliance last year in Arkansas and Illinois, and it puts these governors in an impossible situation. When Disney, Apple, the NCAA, and the NFL are warning you of the consequences of passing the bill, there’s not a lot of room to stand on principle. You can’t sink your state’s economy over something like this. You can accuse Deal of betraying conservative values, but if his signature cost the state thousands of jobs, he would have been in betrayal of the governorship itself.
“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way,” Gov. Deal said. “For that reason, I will veto HB 757.”
Because you can’t say, “Uh, we have to give the corporations their way on this one.” Just sounds bad.
Who knows, maybe Deal would have vetoed the bill no matter what. But assuming otherwise, there are two very troubling implications of what happened here. First, and most obviously, we have allowed companies to essentially overrule the people. Gov. Deal was elected. The legislature that passed this bill is made up of elected individuals. No one elected Apple. Not saying that corporate influence is anything new, but it’s a little disheartening the way these companies don’t even try to hide it anymore.
More importantly, this signals a desperate need for better messaging on LGBT rights. Republicans have a history of obliviousness when it comes to taking their principles to the people. If we had some party spokespeople who could frame these issues in a way that resonates beyond conservatives, we might actually gain some ground. Instead, we get two extremes: Republicans who wish they were conservative shock jocks or Republicans who wish they were Democrats.
It’s a cliché at this point, but our country desperately needs another Ronald Reagan.