The city of Atlanta's bid to host the Super Bowl in either the 2019 or 2020 NFL seasons could depend on the passing of a Georgia bill that supporters say would protect religious liberties.
House Bill 757, which passed the Georgia Legislature this week, would enable religious leaders to refuse to perform same-sex marriages and allow tax-funded groups to deny services to gay men and lesbians. The bill will go to Gov. Nathan Deal to be approved and signed as law.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement Friday such a law could jeopardize Atlanta's ability to host a Super Bowl in the new, $1.4 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, set to open next summer.
"NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard. Whether the laws and regulations of a state and local community are consistent with these policies would be one of many factors NFL owners may use to evaluate potential Super Bowl host sites," the statement said.
Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank spoke out against the bill in a statement released Friday.
"One of my bedrock values is 'Include Everyone' and it's a principle we embrace and strive to live each and every day with my family and our associates, a vast majority of which live and work in Georgia. I strongly believe a diverse, inclusive and welcoming Georgia is critical to our citizens and the millions of visitors coming to enjoy all that our great state has to offer. House Bill 757 undermines these principles and would have long-lasting negative impact on our state and the people of Georgia."
Blank made clear his intentions of hosting Super Bowl LIII, the next available open date for a host city. Tampa, Miami, New Orleans, and Los Angeles also are in contention to bid for Super Bowls LIII and LIV.
The winning bids will be announced at the spring league meeting, to be held in Charlotte on May 23-25.