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Religious liberty advocates urged to follow example of pro-life movement

Saying that "religious liberty is under attack," Liberty Counsel lead litigation attorney Roger Gannam told a group of social conservative leaders and pastors that the path forward for those opposed to same-sex marriage is similar to the one anti-abortion activists have blazed in recent years.

Gannan addressed the weekly teleconference of a group called Staying True to America's National Destiny (STAND), a conservative nonprofit founded by E.W. Jackson, the Republican candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor in 2013.

In his opening statement, Jackson said legislation defending religious freedom is facing a “smackdown” from groups he characterized as seeking to "politicize sexuality."

Jackson said that in states such as Georgia and Virginia, the governors were "folding like cheap suits" in the face of concerted pressure from homosexual rights groups and corporations.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, vetoed a religious freedom bill last week, saying government did not "have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia."

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, also vetoed a religious freedom bill last week, citing it's potential to do serious harm to the state's pro-business reputation.

Liberty Counsel's Gannam had a far different take on the issue.

Gannam said Georgia's proposed law "should have been non-controversial" and that portions of the legislation mirrored those included in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared the law, as it applied to the states, unconstitutional in 1997. It still applies to the federal government, and has played a role in court cases over the Affordable Care Act.

Gannam said state versions of the federal law are controversial now because opponents have "hijacked" the law's meaning, twisting it to imply that any form of legislation seeking to shield religious communities from legal challenges over same-sex marriage is a form of discrimination.

In the current climate, he said, any dissension from the pro-gay marriage agenda “cannot be tolerated” and is “totalitarian.”

"This does not bode well for Christians to speak in the public square." 

Gannam urged STAND members to take action, saying they needed to elect political leaders friendly to their agenda who will "appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution, and not rewrite it.”

More importantly, he said, was for religious communities to focus on the importance of marriage, and the "need to rebuild marriage at the individual couple level."

"Marriage was been weakened through years of neglect by individual Christians and as a sacred institution," Gannam said.

He also suggested that traditional marriage advocates take lessons from the pro-life movement, which he said has been "willing to take small gains" over the years to change pubic perception on the issue.

Gannam's group, Liberty Counsel, has offered its services free of charge to the North Carolina legislature as that state faces a backlash for its adoption of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.

The law, signed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, prohibits local governments in the state from adopting measures banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender preference. The bill limits the definition of an individual's sex to their sex at birth. One result is that all government buildings must have single-sex restrooms.

Opponents have called the law an attack on the gay and transgender communities.

Gannam called it an example of a legislature and governor showing “great courage” against corporate and advocacy groups he labeled as "bullies" who are attempting to "shame" the state into compliance with their beliefs.

More than 80 corporations signed a letter under the auspices of the Human Rights Campaign and Equality North Carolina warning McCrory not to sign the legislation.

On Tuesday, online payments company PayPal announced it was withdrawing its plans to expand operations in Charlotte.

In a statement on its corporate website, PayPal president and CEO Brian Schulman said North Carolina's law "perpetuates discrimination and it violates the values and principles that are at the core of PayPal’s mission and culture.

"As a result," Schulman said, "PayPal will not move forward with our planned expansion into Charlotte."