LGBTQ rights in Georgia could be under threat if Republican Gov. Brian Kemp is reelected in November, a group of Democratic LGBTQ state lawmakers said Monday.
Rep. Sam Park, D-Lawrenceville, said Kemp and Georgia Republicans present a “clear and present danger” to LGBTQ Georgians.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the constitutional right to an abortion earlier this summer has caused LGBTQ Americans to worry that the court may overturn the right to same-sex marriage, Park said.
Back in 2004, Georgia voters approved a ballot measure that added a ban on same-sex marriage to the Georgia Constitution.
When the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, LGBTQ Georgians gained the right to marry freely.
But the 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Georgia could go back into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the right to marry freely, Park said.
“If he has the opportunity, Brian Kemp will not hesitate to roll back the progress we made,” Park said.
But Kemp spokesman Andrew Isenhour said the governor considers the same-sex marriage issue settled law.
“Governor Kemp’s personal position on same-sex marriage has not changed, but this issue has been settled by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Isenhour said.
Sen. Kim Jackson, D-Stone Mountain, an Episcopalian priest married to a woman, described how many religious denominations have changed their approach to same-sex marriage over the past two decades.
“Brian Kemp … has chosen to ignore the ways in which both the church has evolved and the very people of Georgia have evolved,” Jackson said.
“He’s ignored the evolution of his own fellow Republicans who understand that LGBTQ people have a fundamental right to access to marriage,” Jackson said.
The Democrats said they are confident Georgians would vote in favor of a ballot measure to affirm the right to same-sex marriage in the state if given the opportunity.
However, they noted it could be difficult to get such a measure on the ballot because it would need approval by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
“Georgia is one of five states in the country that does not have comprehensive civil rights protections in which discrimination is permitted in employment, housing and public accommodations,” Park said.
Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, the first openly gay legislator in Georgia, said she has proposed such legislation several times but it has never moved forward.
Drenner described how she fought for LGBTQ rights in the Statehouse many times over the last two decades.
One moment of optimism came in 2020 when the state enacted a hate crimes law that provides additional penalties for those who terrorize or physically harm others based on race or sexual orientation.
Lawmakers passed the hate crimes bill four months after Black jogger Ahmaud Arbery was shot to death near Brunswick after being confronted by three white men, who were later convicted of murder.
“I’m here today preemptively to let everyone know … that we’re not going to go back into the shadows and be quiet about any of these issues,” Drenner said.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.