US governor rejects Georgia bill deemed anti-gay

New York (AFP) - The Republican governor of Georgia has rejected a "religious freedoms" bill that giant corporations, Hollywood and activists bitterly complained would infringe gay rights in the southeastern US state.

It made Nathan Deal the second Republican governor this month to oppose legislation deemed to discriminate against the LGBT as North Carolina was slammed for restricting transgender bathroom rights.

The Georgia bill would have allowed pastors to refuse to perform gay marriages and allowed churches and faith-based groups, on the basis of religious belief, to refuse to hire or provide services to gays.

Apple, Disney, Microsoft, Marriott and the National Football League were among those who urged Deal to block the measure, which had been approved by the Republican-controlled state assembly.

"I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia of which my family and I are a part of for all of our lives," Deal told a news conference.

A string of large companies had called on the governor not to sign the bill into law, with Disney threatening to take its business elsewhere.

More than 240 film and television productions were shot in Georgia last year, generating $1.7 billion in spending, according to the state.

Oscar-winning Hollywood A-listers Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore were among those who weighed in, urging the governor to use his veto.

"This is about the character of our state and the character of its people," Deal said.

"Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to. We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way."

The governor has until May 3 to enact his veto, a member of his office told AFP.

- North Carolina travel ban -

Timothy Head, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said his group would continue to fight to pass the legislation and called the governor's rejection "very disappointing."

"The people of Georgia lost today," he said in a statement, denying that the bill authorized discrimination.

Instead it would have protected pastors, churches and faith-based groups from being forced to violate their religious beliefs, he said.

But gay rights campaigners, led by the Human Rights Campaign, welcomed the governor's intervention.

"The 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 Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against a law passed in North Carolina deemed discriminatory against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Republican Governor Pat McCrory last week signed the bill into law, which among other things stipulates that transgender students must use the bathroom reflecting the gender of their birth.

Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, the fourth most populous state in the country, banned non-essential, publicly-funded travel to North Carolina, effective immediately and to last until the law is repealed.

"In New York, we believe that all people -- regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation -- deserve the same rights and protections under the eyes of the law," he said Monday.

Last year, Cuomo imposed the same ban on travel to Indiana after the state's legislature passed a bill that did not prohibit discrimination against LGBT citizens. It was later amended.

The National Basketball Association is among vocal critics, saying the law runs against its principles of equality and could impact its ability to host the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.

Earlier this month, South Dakota Republican Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed legislation that would have prevented public school pupils who identify as transgender from accessing the bathroom and locker rooms of their choice.