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Anti-gay legislation vetoed amid threats of lost Super Bowl for Atlanta

If Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a controversial "religious liberty" bill into law, the NFL could have shied away from making the new Atlanta stadium a Super Bowl site.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a controversial "religious freedom" bill on Monday that threatened to hurt the chances of the new home of the Atlanta Falcons being the future host of a Super Bowlaccording to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

If Deal signed House Bill 757, a new law would have allowed faith-based organizations and individuals to opt out of serving gay couples on religious grounds. According to Aaron Gould Sheinin and Kristina Torres of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the bill was originally proposed to ensure pastors weren't forced to perform same-sex marriages, but was expanded to include any individual or organization able to cite a sincerely held religious belief that would be compromised by serving a gay couple.

Critics of the bill, including Georgia Unites Against Discrimination, called it "extreme anti-LGBT legislation" that would remove anti-discrimination protections in the state. In a statement, the NFL suggested that Atlanta's bid for an upcoming Super Bowl could be jeopardized if the bill was passed into law.

"NFL policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or any other improper standard," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Schultz in a statement. "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."

In addition to pressures from the NFL, the SEC and the College Football Playoff issued statements that indicated both were monitoring the situation. SEC Championship games and the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship are scheduled for Atlanta.

While the new home of the Falcons isn't in line to host a Super Bowl yet, it is considered a favorite to earn an upcoming bid. The Super Bowl will be in Houston in February 2017 and Minnesota in 2018, but owners will vote in May for the sites for 2019 and 2020. Atlanta is one of four finalists for those two years, along with New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Miami.

With a new stadium set to open in 2017, Atlanta is considered one of the front-runners. The city has hosted a Super Bowl twice before, but not since 2000 when the St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans.

"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," Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a statement. "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."

In 2014, Arizona was close to passing a similar bill named the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" and the NFL issued a similar statement decrying discrimination to the one it sent the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer nixed the bill shortly thereafter and Super Bowl XLIX remained in the state.

A couple decades prior, Arizona lost a Super Bowl after the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Day as an official state holiday. The NFL responded by moving Super Bowl XXVII from Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.