The Republican rejected the bill on Monday, saying "I have examined the protections that this bill proposes to provide to the faith based community and I can find no examples of any of those circumstances occurring in our state."
Deal added, "I do not think that we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia."
Republican majorities passed the bill to broadly protect people acting on their religion. It also would have protected clergy who won't perform gay marriages and people who won't attend a wedding for religious reasons. Churches and affiliated religious groups also could have declined to serve or hire someone based on their faith.
But major companies from Walt Disney to the NFL threatened to pull their business. The bill's opponents said it excused discrimination and could trample local ordinances protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In response to the veto announcement, a coalition of businesses that had fought the bill applauded the governor.
Deal said he would have signed the bill had it passed in its original form, but he said other versions caused him concern. He said his decision to reject the bill 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."
Indiana famously passed a similar bill last year, only to roll back some of the harsher provisions after a sustained public outcry.
North Carolina somehow succeeded in passing a bill that outlawed anti-discrimination protections for LGBT citizens without stirring the same attention beyond a few protestations from large corporations and a Funny or Die video mocking the state.