Will Bibb County officials face repercussions from some religious groups if they approve a proposal that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and promotions of gays and transgender people?
If previous statewide protests over gay rights issues are indications, the Macon-Bibb Commission might expect a large religious contingence to attend Tuesday's commission meeting, when officials consider adopting an anti-discrimination ordinance.
During the 2016 legislative session, hundreds of opponents and proponents stormed the state Capitol when lawmakers were considering a Religious Freedom Act that many believed would discriminate against gays and lesbians. The General Assembly approved the legislation. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it.
Earlier this week, a commission committee approved an amendment that would change one word regarding appointments and promotions in Macon-Bibb County. The current ordinance reads that "all appointments and promotions shall be made with regard to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, national origin, age, or political affiliation."
The proposed change adds three letters to the word "with. It reads that "all appointments and promotions in Macon-Bibb County shall be made without regard to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, national origin, age, or political affiliation."
Committee members voted four to one to approve the proposal. It's now scheduled to go before the full commission for consideration during its April 18 meeting.
During the committee meeting, Tim McCoy, pastor of Ingleside Baptist Church, spoke against the proposal. While McCoy stressed that he was speaking for himself, not his church, he said the proposed change flies in the face of Judeo-Christians like himself who support marriage between a man and woman.
McCoy gave four reasons for opposing the change. He questioned whether it was really needed, saying there aren't any examples of discrimination involving the issues covered in the change. He said it wasn't clear what orientation and gender would be protected, and that it could result in Judeo-Christians being classified as bigots.
If enacted, McCoy said the proposal could also have unintended consequences such as the firing of former Atlanta Fire Chief Kevin Cochran.
Cochran was fired in 2015 after he self-published a book called "Who Told You That You Were Naked? Overcoming The Stronghold of Condemnation."
In the book, Cochran writes that "sex outside the confines of marriage between a man and woman" is contrary to God's will. He defined sinful acts as sodomy, homosexuality, lesbianism, adultery, fornication and lasciviousness.
Atlanta officials, including Mayor Kasim Reed, justified Cochran's firing by claiming he didn't follow city ordinances in producing the book, and that he interfered with internal order and discipline by giving the book to some employees and encouraging them to read and heed it.
Cochran filed a federal lawsuit against city officials, contending he was fired because of his religious stance. He also said his firing violated his First Amendment right of free speech. His suit is pending.
While McCoy spoke against the amendment, Jace Petermann of Macon supported it. Petermann identified himself as a transgender man and said the change might encourage people to move to Macon.
"They may be different from other people, but they are still welcomed and protected in their community as citizens," Petermann said. He also said people in the LGBT community need the protection.
Unlike the state proposal that Deal vetoed, the commission offering would make it illegal to discriminate against people seeking jobs or promotions.
But battle lines are being drawn and county officials should expect a crowd when the issue comes up for consideration Tuesday.
We'll know Tuesday whether proponents or opponents win Macon's current discrimination struggle.
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