Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said on Monday that he would veto a so-called “religious freedom” bill passed by the state legislature that has sparked national criticism for discriminating against same-sex couples.
House Bill 757 which states that no pastor can be forced to perform a same-sex wedding was recently passed by the Republican-controlled legislature.
Under the bill, faith-based groups can not be forced to hire or retain an employee whose beliefs go counter to the organisation’s as churches and religious schools would have the right to reject organising events for people or groups to whom they oppose.
Deal, a Republican, said that he could not support the legislation which had drawn wide criticism from corporations and triggered threats of a state boycott by the entertainment industry.
Deal added that he was not bullied into his decision but felt a law was not necessary.
"I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia," Deal said at news conference on the legislation, noting his religious faith.
Deal said that his decision was "about the character of our state and the character of our people. Georgia is a welcoming state. It is full of loving, kind and generous people. ... I intend to do my part to keep it that way. For that reason I will veto House Bill 757."
Gay rights advocates such as Human Rights Campaign (HRC) celebrated 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," HRC President Chad Griffin said in a statement adding that Deal had "set an example for other elected officials to follow."
Spokesman for the Georgian Baptist Convention, which lobbied for the bill, Mike Griffin said that his group’s 1.3 million members will continue to fight for it.
"All we wanted was protection from government overreach," Mike said, noting his disappointment in Deal, a two-term governor.
"We feel that he's let down the people of faith and all of Georgia by not signing the bill," he added.
Hollywood stars including Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore as well as movie and TV studios such as 21st Century Fox, NBC Universal, Time Warner, Walt Disney, AMC, Viacom and Marvel Entertainment criticised the legislation.
More than 300 large corporations and small businesses including Delta Airlines and Coca Cola also opposed to the bill.
Last year, similar bills in states such as Indiana and Arkansas sparked storms of criticism, forcing many lawmakers to retreat.
North Carolina is currently seeing protest over a new law that bars transgender people from choosing bathrooms consistent with their gender identity.