Updated 2/26/14 8:32pm ET with Gov. Brewer’s veto.
By Albert Lin
The Arizona State Legislature has become the first in the nation to pass a bill that essentially would allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people, but the measure has been vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.
Senate Bill 1062 passed last week by a 33-27 vote in the House and a 17-13 vote in the Senate. Four Republicans who voted in favor of the SB 1062 later reversed course and urged Brewer to veto it, citing the strong backlash from the public.
Similar to the Kansas bill that has been sidetracked, Arizona SB 1062 strengthens the use of religious freedom as a legal defense. It reads: “A person whose religious exercise is burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.”
The bill adds that the person’s “action or refusal to act” must be motivated by religious belief, and the religious belief must be sincere. It also expands the law to protect “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”
Similar legislation has been introduced in Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, although efforts have stalled in several of those states.
These bills ostensibly are supposed to protect, for example, clergy from being sued if they refuse to perform a gay-marriage ceremony. Many, however, point out that the legislation also gives individuals and businesses the right to refuse service to LGBT people.
“Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but it’s not a blank check to harm others or impose our faith on our neighbors,” Daniel Mach, Director, ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, told The New York Times. “Over the years, we as a nation have rejected efforts to invoke religion to justify discrimination in the marketplace, and there’s no reason to turn back the clock now.”
Brewer vetoed a similar religious freedom bill last year, and Chuck Coughlin, a member of Brewer’s transition team when she took over for Janet Napolitano in 2009, told the Times he doesn’t think she would sign this one. “We already have laws to sufficiently protect people’s religion freedoms in this country, and this bill could actually empower people to discriminate,” Coughlin said.
Rocco DiGrazia, owner of Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, created a social-media buzz when he posted on Facebook this photo of a sign in his restaurant window:
“It sounds like it’s opening the door to hate and bigotry of all stripes,” DiGrazia told the Times. “I make dinner for a living—I’m not a social activist. But I do have a lot of gay customers and employees, and why are you trying to alienate these people”
The post had more than 24,000 likes and more than 1,400 comments as of Monday evening.