Arizona Governor vetoes bill allowing businesses to refuse services on religious grounds

Published 27 February 2014  |  
(AP)

A law passed by the Arizona State Legislature, which would have allowed businesses to refuse service to homosexual individuals on the grounds of "sincerely held" religious beliefs, has been vetoed by the state's Governor.

Senate bill 1062 was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature last week, with proponents arguing that it was a change designed to protect religious liberty.

It comes after a spate of recent lawsuits in other parts of the country.  Christian bakers in Oregon and Colorado have faced legal action because of their refusal to provide cakes for same-sex wedding. In New Mexico, a wedding photographer was successfully prosecuted because she refused to take pictures of a same-sex wedding.

However, Republican state Governor Jan Brewer said she had to veto the bill because none of these incidents had happened within the state of Arizona.

Quoted on the BBC, she said: "I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated."

On Fox News, she described the bill as having the "the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve" because it was too "broadly worded".

"It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want," she said.

Arizona Senator and former Republican Presidential Candidate John McCain had been calling Governor Brewer to use her veto power.

In response to the decision, he was quoted on Fox News saying: "I appreciate the decision made by Governor Brewer to veto this legislation. I hope that we can now move on from this controversy and assure the American people that everyone is welcome to live, work and enjoy our beautiful state of Arizona."

Economic self-interest may have been a factor in Governor Brewer's decision as a number of businesses including Marriot Hotels, Intel, PetSmart, Yelp, and American and Delta Airlines have condemned the bill and threatened to move operations out of Arizona unless it was vetoed.

Apple applied considerable economic pressure by threatening to reconsider its decision to locate a new manufacturing plant in the Arizonan city of Mesa, a facility that will bring 2,000 new jobs to the state.

Perhaps the biggest economic force to consider was sport. The National Football League had threatened to change its plans to host the 49th Superbowl in the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale next year if the law was not vetoed.

Governor Brewer insisted she had weighed all aspects of the debate carefully and with fair consideration. She was quoted in the Guardian saying: "I call them like I see them despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd.

"I took the necessary time to make the right decision, I met or spoke with my attorneys, lawmakers and citizens supporting and opposing this legislation.

"To the supporters of this legislation, I want you to know I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before."

Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement quoted in the Guardian: "We strongly support the right of every person to exercise their religious beliefs, but religious freedom doesn't give any of us the right to harm others.

"The massive public opposition to this, as well as several other failed bills across the country, shows that Americans of all political persuasions and religions feel the same way."

The Centre for Arizona Policy, a leading social conservative organisation and a principle architect of the bill responded to the veto as marking "a sad day for Arizonans who cherish and understand religious liberty".

"Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits," CAP president Cathi Herrod said in statement quoted by the BBC. "Essentially, they succeeded in getting a veto of a bill that does not even exist."

The bill's supporters argued that the bill was an adjustment to existing laws that gave businesses the right to refuse service, merely extending the motivation to include sexual orientation.

However, such a change would have overturned local ordinances within Arizona in cities such as Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Tucson, which provide specific protections to the LGBT community.

Rebecca Wininger, president of the pro-LGBT group Equality Arizona, told the BBC that the veto sent "a clear message for those trying to use religion and those with right-leaning rhetoric that we're done... we're tired and we're done with being discriminated against".

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