Arizona Anti-Gay Bill Vetoed

One Bill Down, Discrimination Still Entrenched


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Cheers went up outside Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s office as lesbian and gay protesters heard she had vetoed SB 1062 on February 26. The protesters had been there since the Arizona legislature had narrowly passed the bill on February 20. SB 1062 would have amended Arizona’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to specifically allow any and all businesses to refuse service to customers if they felt it violated their “deeply held religious beliefs” to do so. The bill would have covered everything from small businesses like bakeries that have refused to make wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples to restaurants to hotels.

Protests against the bill had not been limited to lesbians and gay men, who were directly impacted by the bill. National companies doing business in Arizona like Apple, Marriott and  American and Delta Airlines all urged the Governor to veto the bill. The NFL objected in advance of the 2015 Super Bowl to be held in Glendale, saying the bill would be bad for business. Arizona’s Senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake–both Republicans–also urged Brewer to veto the law as did 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  

In her press conference after vetoing the bill, Brewer, herself a former small business owner, was succinct about why she vetoed, saying, “Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”

Brewer also voiced her concerns that the bill had “the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.” 

The bill was always viewed not just as discriminatory against lesbians and gays, but as broadly unconstitutional and deeply divisive. The ACLU and other legal scholars argued that the bill could be used expansively to discriminate against people of other religions or any group a particular business owner felt might violate his religious beliefs. Business owners throughout the state asserted it would be harmful to Arizona’s economy and give the state a reputation for being discriminatory. Prior to Brewer vetoing the bill, the Hispanic National Bar Association decided to move their 40th annual conference, scheduled to be held in Phoenix, citing concerns over discrimination. 

Bills similar to the SB1062 had been proposed in Kansas, Maine, South Dakota and Tennesee, but also failed. After Brewer vetoed SB1062, African-American Rep. Bill Patmon (D-OH) decided to withdraw and “re-word” an identical bill he had proposed in Ohio. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Derickson (R-OH) and had the support of 40 Republicans and several Democrats. Patmon told reporters he thought the bill was a “no brainer” when he proposed it in December.  

Bills like these, stipulating to “religious freedom,” have proliferated after several high-profile cases of discrimination have been brought to the courts. A state judge ruled against a bakery that refused to sell a wedding cake to a lesbian couple while the New Mexico State Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue the photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. 

In January, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries found that a bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa, had violated a lesbian couple’s civil rights by refusing to make a wedding cake for them. Under Oregon law, only religious organizations are exempt from the state’s equality law which stipulates there can be no discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

 Yet despite these cases, Arizona is not the only state that has either passed such a law or has plans to. Two days before Brewer vetoed SB1062, Missouri state Sen. Wayne Wallingford put forward a similar bill, SB 916, also framed as protecting religious rights. “We’re trying to protect Missourians from attacks on their religious freedom,” Wallingford told The Kansas City Star.

Georgia has two separate bills up for consideration, HB1023 in the house and SB377 in the senate. The bills are titled “Preservation of Religious Freedom Act.” Mississippi’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” was passed unanimously by the state senate last month and is now before the state house. The bill stipulates the state may not “burden” a person’s “exercise of religion.” In Idaho HB427 has been sent back to committee to be “re-worked,” as in Ohio. 

These battles will likely persist–and even Arizona isn’t finished. Next week the Arizona house is expected to vote on HB 2481 which would allow judges and justices of the peace to refuse to officiate at same-sex weddings. Arizona does not yet have marriage equality, but the bill would act as an end-run around same-sex marriages when the issue comes up for review, which is expected to happen in the next year.

 

 

Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural&historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem, will be published in fall 2014. @VABVOX

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