Life under Miss Liberty


If you travel south through Georgia State’s campus, you will see a dome under a pediment, both of which are supported by a structure that’s a bit odd, considering its surroundings. The authoritarian vibe can be probably be traced to the building’s neoclassicism — it was designed to be reminiscent of ancient Greek and Roman infrastructure.

This is the Georgia state capitol building, home of the Georgia General Assembly, our bicameral legislature. Like the U.S. Congress, Georgia’s legislature consists of a Senate with 56 seats, and a House of Representatives with 180 seats. Few would be shocked to find that both houses have a Republican majority, mirroring the federal legislature. The Georgia House of Representatives is assigned the task of creating appropriations bills, while the Georgia Senate either confirms or rejects Gubernatorial appointments.

That’s a lot of power for 236 Southerners under one roof. Like many Georgians, I’m interested in these people — where they come from, how they were raised, what they believe in, what they don’t. They are often overshadowed by their federal counterparts, who make national headlines with their reckless procrastination and petty litigations.

Southern pride

Georgia is a blatantly Republican state, and has been for some time. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 drove a stake in the Democratic Party, causing Strom Thurmond, a Senator from South Carolina, to lead a group of disgruntled Democrats away from the apparent liberalism.

This affected the entire political landscape of the South — the same landscape that gave birth to our current General Assembly which is about 67 percent Republican. An interesting feature of Georgia partisanship is the concentration of voters. If you looked at a red and blue map of our great state, Atlanta would be a blue island in a red sea. How did this polar distribution develop?

Metropolitan Atlanta is the most diverse area in Georgia. This implies a correlation between diversity and Democratic voters. It’s generally understood that the social services and egalitarianism in Democratic ideology is attractive to minorities. When we can understand this, we can understand the political divide. The GOP platform in Georgia consists of a distaste for the legislative influence that President Barack Obama has used.

Given the GOP majority of our legislature, it would seem that they face an interesting future with progressive legislation gaining traction across the country. Conservative Georgians will continue to elect conservative representatives, which will continue to reject recent legal changes, such as same-sex marriage and cannabis legalization. It will come to a point, at which our legislature will isolate us in complacency.

Topics to address

The name “Nan Orrock” probably doesn’t ring a bell. Neither does Simone Bell. But for Georgia State proper, they are the senator and representative, respectfully. Orrock is one of 18 Democrats in the Senate and focuses on social issues (e.g., poverty, women’s rights, health policy, etc.). Bell also finds herself in the minority, in more ways than one. She is one of four openly gay members of the General Assembly.

It’s a bit ironic that four homosexuals serve in the legislature of a state that would consider their marriage illegitimate. Bell is a sign of growing acceptance and advocacy of the LGBTQIQA community — at least in metropolitan Atlanta. Unfortunately for them, Georgia doesn’t protect employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Under Georgia law, it is perfectly legal to refuse to hire someone because of their sexual orientation; however, an amendment to Title 41 of Georgia State Code was introduced last year, and will be effective April 8 of this year. The amendment protects potential employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Victims of this discrimination will have to wait around three months for their state to protect them.

Another pressing issue for this legislative year is the legality of medicinal marijuana. Rep. Allen Peake is the champion and sole sponsor of House Bill 1, also known as Haleigh’s Hope Act. Its purpose is to legalize marijuana as a treatment for patients of qualifying conditions. Many families have left Georgia because medicinal cannabis continues to be illegal. Peake’s bill would allow them to come home and have access to the medicine they need.

A general consensus exists in the medical community that marijuana has beneficial effects on certain patients. Currently, discrimination based on sexual orientation is legal in Georgia. The cannabis debate is a matter of empirical study — is it beneficial, or isn’t it?

The equal protection debate has aspects of empirical understanding: How do we explain discrepancies in sexual orientation? More prominently, it’s an ethical debate. The conclusive question becomes: Should law be based in dry empirical logic, or flaky notions of right and wrong?

I side with the former. Evidently, so do a minority of voters in Georgia, who are tightly concentrated and diverse.