Brookhaven, GA, September 7, 2016 – Commentary by Allen Fox – As a proud Republican, the religious liberty bill debate in Georgia was a turning point in my life. Like many of you, I found our three-year saga of religious liberty debates deeply unfortunate because it distracted us from the most pressing issues facing our community, including education, job creation and transportation. It became even more infuriating when we heard from the business community saying that this type of legislation would hinder their ability to create jobs, attract talent, and expand in Georgia.
Sanctioned discrimination and job killing policies go against every conservative value I hold dear. However, I refused to become distraught. Inspired by conservative leaders like Representative Mike Jacobs who was unafraid to address discrimination against the LGBT community, I organized conservatives across the state to speak out against discrimination. In the end, many of my fellow Republicans and I joined faith leaders, businesses, civil rights organizations, independents and Democrats to oppose the religious freedom legislation. We rejoiced (as Republicans) when Governor Deal vetoed House Bill 757, joining 11 other Republican legislators who voted against the bill. I even attended the state Republican convention publicly thanking the Governor for his courageous veto.
However, the past 3 years of organizing on this issue has taught me something even more important: the strength of our economy and human rights should be bigger than party politics. It speaks to who we are as Georgians, and it’s just the right thing to do. Mike Jacobs certainly got that. As a former board member with the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans and active with Georgia Equality, Representative Jacobs has always been a visual and outspoken advocate for the LGBT community and equal treatment. And that is why I respected Representative Taylor Bennett’s early and clear denunciation of the religious liberty bill. From the very beginning of this debate, Taylor took a forceful stand against discrimination and the impact that has on our diverse community and growing economy. He is the rightful heir to Mike Jacob’s pragmatic and inclusionary leadership.
Recently, another thing has been made clear to me: to be silent in the face of discrimination is to be complicit. Even more so, when the perception of discrimination hurts the very product we Republicans have worked so hard to produce: a strong economic environment (as evidenced by Georgia being named by CNBC the best place in the nation to do business in 2015). Answering a newspaper questionnaire in the midst of a campaign is no excuse for years of inaction. Neither is refusing to take a position until it seemed politically prudent and remaining silent in the face of discrimination. And while those of us who care deeply about this issue welcome recent converts in the religious freedom debate, it is no substitute for action. Words are nice, but standing beside us while we urged Governor Deal to veto the bill would have been much nicer. Leaders lead, and I’ve yet to meet anyone capable of leading from the sidelines.
The proponents of the religious exemption legislation have tried at every turn to discredit any Republican who dares disagree with their ‘religious liberty’ push, including disparaging me, Mike Jacobs and even Governor Deal. And yet, somehow, they have rallied around the Republican nominee in House District 80. That should scare any common sense conservative especially since they plan to introduce this type of legislation next session! Those who follow their backward vision for our party knowingly lead it to destruction, alienating millennials and minorities, the very groups we need as a party to win in the future. We are the party of Lincoln and inclusion should be part of any future Republican campaign. Those who ostracize their fellow party members for placing the conviction of their beliefs above politics demonstrate a commitment to winning elections, not true representation of a diverse community, not equal rights, and not a more inclusive, unified Georgia.
I believe that metro-area residents want a public servant who stands up against such factions for the sake of our community, economy, and the decency of our state. Even though I am a Republican, I am confident that person is Taylor Bennett.
•• Allen Fox is the founder of Georgia Republicans for the Future and Interim President of Georgia Log Cabin Republicans
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