Many event professionals in the state of Georgia breathed a sigh of relief yesterday when Governor Nathan Deal announced he would veto the "religious liberty" bill, which critics say would have given businesses license to discriminate against the state's LBGT community. House Bill 757 would have allowed faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving gay couples on religious grounds, which rights activists feared could be extended to other businesses.
The bill had launched a firestorm of controversy, with corporate titans including Disney and the National Football League threatening not to bring business to Georgia if the law passed. Georgia offers generous tax break to companies, such as Disney, which film in the state. And Atlanta is among the finalists for the NFL's Super Bowl 2019 and 2020.
CHILL ON BUSINESS Atlanta event professionals interviewed by Special Events say they have not seen already-scheduled events pull out due to the pending bill. But they note that the possibility the bill would pass had put a chill on proposed business.
"I haven't had any fallout from my clients but am thrilled that Gov. Deal vetoed the bill!" says Janice Blackmon, head of Atlanta-based Janice Blackmon Events.
Tony Conway, head of Atlanta's Legendary Events catering and venues including Flourish, concurs. While a client same-sex couple had no intention of canceling their Georgia wedding, Conway's discussions about possible Atlanta-based Super Bowl events were quite different.
"We have been in discussion with the team working on Super Bowl 2019 and 2020," Conway says, "stating that they have all had serious talks about whether or not they would stay in Atlanta if this bill is not vetoed by the governor."
Conway adds, "For myself and several of our team and colleagues, there has been more conversation about what the outcome could be and how could this really be happening, and why in this day and age could we all just not get along."
Indeed, the theme of tolerance echoes in the responses of several event pros interviewed for this article.
THE MIDDLE Dan Nolan III, CEO and partner in Tents Unlimited and Event Rentals Unlimited, points to the "90 percent" of the world that "lives in the middle," as he puts it, versus the 10 percent on both ends of the political spectrum who are spoiling for a fight.
"This bill would have created a toxic environment that the activists and lawyers would thrive in," Nolan says, "leaving good, hard-working people out in the cold, and the hospitality industry suffering the brunt of this unnecessary legislation."
He adds, "Being nice is easy. Being different is tough. Including all people that are different and being nice in the process is compassionate. Best I can tell, that's not a bad thing. If so, call me guilty. I'll own that one."