Republican Eddie Farnsworth speaks Thursday at the Arizona State Capitol in support of the bill backed by Republicans that expands the rights of people to assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays and others.
PHOENIX — Four years after igniting a national uproar over immigration, the Arizona Legislature has jumped into the battle over gay rights with a piece of legislation that had opponents on Friday predicting business boycotts against the state.
The legislation allows business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to refuse service to gays, and all eyes are on Republican Gov. Jan Brewer as she decides whether to sign the bill. A decision is likely next week.
The conservative governor is already feeling pressure from the business community to veto the bill passed late Thursday. A prominent Phoenix group believes it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration crackdown law, SB1070. Opponents also pointed out that the legislation would serve as a major distraction as Arizona prepares to host the Super Bowl next year.
But Brewer also will be heavily pressured to sign the bill by social conservatives who backed it as a religious-rights bill.
Brewer, who is deeply religious but also pro-business, is caught somewhere in the middle. She hasn’t taken a public position on this bill.
Social conservatives and libertarian-minded members of the GOP believe the legislation protects the First Amendment rights of business owners who are expressing their religious beliefs.
The new legislation was passed over the shrill objections of Democrats who said it was clearly designed to allow discrimination against gays. All but three Republicans in the Legislature voted in favor of the bill.
Greater Phoenix Economic Council President and CEO Barry Broome urged the governor to veto the bill and said four companies have already put their plans to open facilities in Arizona on hold until they see if the bill becomes law. The impact could mean the potential loss of “thousands of jobs,” Broome said.
In terms of wooing businesses, Broome said the bill is far more damaging than SB1070 was.
“This is coming out of left field ... from a bunch of demagogues who don’t care about Arizona’s future,” Broome said. “I think the political consequences are gonna be greater than people might think.”
Republicans defended the proposal during two days of debate in the House and Senate, saying the bill is only a “modest update” of the state’s existing religious freedom law, which mirrors existing federal legislation. They frequently cited the case of a New Mexico photographer who was sued after refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple and said Arizona needs a law to protect people in the state from heavy-handed actions by courts.
“The world’s on its ear,” said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who supported the bill. “It’s alien to me that a business owner can’t reflect his faith in his business.”
The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or an individual claiming discrimination. It also allows the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of their religion.MORE IN Wire News
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