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Governor of US state of Georgia to veto bill seen as anti-gay

The governor of the southern US state of Georgia says he is rejecting a bill discriminating against same-sex couples. The passing of the bill by the state's legislature had provoked widespread protest.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (above) said Monday he was vetoing a bill passed by the Republican-majority state legislature that would allow clergy to refuse to perform gay marriages because it conflicted with their religious beliefs.

Deal, himself a Republican and a professed Christian, said he felt the law was not necessary.

"I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia," he said.

The recently passed legislation, called a "religious freedom" bill, would also protect people who refuse to attend same-sex marriage ceremonies, and allow churches and religious schools to serve or hire people or groups to which they object on religious grounds.

Prominent opposition

Opponents of the bill say it excuses discriminations and could go against local ordinances protecting lesbian, bay, bisexual and transgender people.

More than 300 large corporations and small businesses, including Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola, expressed their opposition to the bill and called on the governor to veto it. Some film studios and companies threatened to boycott the state if Deal did not reject the legislation.

US gay rights organizations were quick to hail Deal's decision.

"Our message to Governor Nathan Deal was loud and clear: this deplorable legislation was bad for his constituents, bad for business, and bad for Georgia's future," said the president of the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, adding that Deal had "[set] an example for other elected officials to follow."

Advocates to fight on

But the Georgia Baptist Convention, which vigorously supported the bill, said it would continue to fight for it to be passed.

"We feel [Deal]'s let down the people of faith and all of Georgia by not signing the bill," Convention spokesman Mike Griffin said.

To overturn the veto, lawmakers would need, as a first step, to gain a three-fifths majority in both the House and Senate to force the governor to convene a special session. A two-thirds majority would then be needed in each chamber to push through the bill in the face of the veto. Republicans do not have such a majority in either chamber, and no Democrats voted for the legislation.

In June last year, the US Supreme Court overturned same-sex marriage bans across all states in a landmark ruling, meaning that same-sex couples are legally allowed to wed nationwide.

Another southern US state, North Carolina, is currently seeing protest over a new law barring transgender people from choosing bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity.

tj/ rc (Reuters, AP)