Arizona religious liberty bill vetoed

The legislation would have given business owners the right to refuse service to gays and lesbians.


PHOENIX — Gov. Jan Brewer’s action came amid mounting pressure from across the spectrum, including members of the Republican establishment — Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Mitt Romney and others — who sided with the bill’s opponents.

As Brewer deliberated, the state had already begun to lose business: The Hispanic National Bar Association canceled plans to hold its annual convention of 2,000 lawyers here next year because of the bill.

Outside the State Capitol on Wednesday, where Brewer spent the day in private meetings with supporters and opponents of the bill, protesters gathered, holding signs that read, “Civil rights trump religious wrongs.”

Inside, television cameras stood guard by the entrance to the governor’s wing as volunteers from the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights advocacy group, hauled in boxes and boxes of petitions holding 63,000 signatures asking for a veto.

Brewer said at a news conference that the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.” The bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences, she added.

SB 1062 would have allowed people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. Backers cited a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn’t exist in Arizona.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful social conservative group that backs anti-abortion and conservative Christian legislation in the state and is opposed to gay marriage, argued the law is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.

“We see a growing hostility toward religion,” said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the group.

The measure is the latest initiative in Arizona to set off a political firestorm around the country. The state is still struggling to repair its image and finances from the boycotts and bad publicity it endured after passage of a stern immigration law in 2010, which gave police officers the right to stop people whom they suspected of being in the country illegally and made it a crime for unauthorized immigrants to hold jobs.

Arizona also faced a boycott almost 20 years ago, after voters initially refused to recognize the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday. Back then, the state was set to host the Super Bowl, but the National Football League, looking to avoid the controversy, moved the game to Pasadena, Calif.

There was a palpable sense of anticipation on Wednesday; everyone — legislators, lobbyists, seasoned consultants — were waiting on the governor.

Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in several states, including Idaho, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed.

Also Wednesday, a federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional but will allow the nation’s second-most populous state to enforce the law pending an appeal that will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Associated Press contributed.

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