Fayetteville, Georgia is making international news again thanks to its links to the film and television industry, and this time in particular thanks to reports that heavy-hitters like Disney may bail out of Fayette and out of Georgia entirely if Governor Nathan Deal signs the recently passed Georgia House Bill 757 into law.
Officially called the “Free Exercise Protection Act,” HB 757 reacts to the nation-wide legalization of homosexual marriage by protecting religious organizations from being forced to participate in those marriages. For example, a minister would not be held liable for turning down the opportunity to perform a marriage ceremony, nor would the organization’s tax exemption status be placed in jeopardy.
HB 757 also ensures that Georgia-based religious organizations will be allowed to choose who uses its property, and it prohibits governments from pressuring businesses to be open on “rest days,” which include Saturdays and Sundays.
Opponents of the bill say it legalizes discrimination.
HB 757 passed through the House and Senate chambers on March 16. In the House, it passed 104 to 65, with all Democrats present voting against the bill, and all but 10 Republicans present voting in favor of the bill. David Ralston, who serves as speaker of the house, doesn’t normally vote, and ten other state representatives, including Fayetteville’s Ronnie Mabra (D), had excused absences during the vote.
In the Senate, votes were cast along party lines, with 37 Republicans voting in favor of HB 757 and 18 Democrats voting against it.
The governor now has 40 days to decide whether or not to veto it. If he ignores HB 757, it would become law automatically on July 1.
On Wednesday, media outlets lit up their websites with stories claiming that Disney has threatened to cease filming in Georgia if Deal signs the bill into law. Disney owns Marvel Enterprises, the production company that is currently the main tenant occupying Pinewood Studios Atlanta in Fayetteville.
Several mainstream online publications quoted an apparently nameless “Disney spokesman” who on Wednesday reportedly issued the following statement: “Disney and Marvel are inclusive companies, and although we have had great experiences filming in Georgia, we will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”
There is no apparent mention of such a statement on The Walt Disney Company’s website.
State Representative Kevin Tanner (R) of Dawsonville, who authored HB 757, as of Friday at press time had not responded to questions from this newspaper about the bill, and neither had State Senator Greg Kirk (R) of Americus, who sponsored the bill in the senate.
State representatives Matt Ramsey (R), John Yates (R) and Ronnie Mabra (D) also failed to respond to questions by press time, as did State Senator Marty Harbin (R).