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AZ Lawmakers pass religious discrimination bill

(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJCook Photography)

(Photo by Ryan Cook/RJCook Photography, photo illustration by Gabe Turner)

Gov. Jan Brewer is going to get the last word on whether Arizona business owners can cite their religion as a reason to turn away gays — and maybe others.

On a largely party-line vote, the state House late Thursday gave final approval to legislation to give a legal shield to individuals and businesses who face claims of discrimination. In essence, it says that a “sincerely held” religious belief” can immunize that person or firm against lawsuits.

The Senate already has approved SB1062.

Brewer has generally sided with groups like the Center for Arizona Policy which supports the legislation on the grounds it keeps people from having to act against their own religious beliefs. But foes hope to convince business groups, which have so far stayed out of the fray, to convince the governor that having Arizona be the first — and potentially only — state to adopt this law is bad for attracting business.

Gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder would not comment, saying only that his boss would review it when she returns from Washington where she is attending the conference of the National Governors Association.

Only three Republicans joined the 24 Democrats in opposition: Ethan Orr from Tucson, Kate Brophy McGee from Phoenix and Heather Carter from Cave Creek.

Several hours of debate showed a sharp division remains into exactly what the measure would do.
Existing stand and federal law already says people can use their religious beliefs to avoid government regulations if they can show those rules or laws substantially burden the ability to exercise those beliefs. But it also says those religious beliefs do not trump regulations where there is a “compelling government interest” and where those rules are the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.

Proponents contend SB1062 just extends those same rights in situations where the government is not involved, such as what happened in New Mexico where a gay couple successfully sued a photographer for refusing to take pictures at their wedding.

“This is state-sanctioned discrimination,” said House Minority Leader Chad Campbell. And Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said the legislation will create an “open season” to discriminate.

But Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, called those claims a “distortion.”

“What this bill is simply trying to bring forward is that you should not have to forfeit your religious freedoms and rights merely because you want to work or start a business in the state of Arizona,” he said.

How far someone could push that claim of religious protection, however, remained unclear.

Democrats suggested it would allow someone to claim that his religion does not believe in equal rights for women. But Republicans said there already are laws on the books preventing discrimination in public services and accommodations on account of gender or even race.

That, then, may reduce the issue to one of gay rights. Campbell got Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, to acknowledge that, under this law, someone could cite religious reasons for refusing to serve or even employ gays.

But Farnsworth said Campbell is making too much of that.

“A business owner already can decide not to hire someone who is gay or lesbian,” he said.

That’s because neither Arizona nor federal law provides anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation. And he said nothing in SB 1062 changes or expands on that.

But Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said that ignores the fact that many cities, including his own, have anti-discrimination ordinances. He worried that this legislation would allow business owners to ignore those rules and preclude individuals who have been victimized from filing suit.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, lashed out at laws that prohibit discrimination against gays. He called such measure “ironic” given that the country was founded by those fleeing religious persecution themselves, saying that the descendents of those people are now being prosecuted and sued for exercising their own religious freedoms.

“All this bill does is protect the religious freedom that the people who began this country came here to establish,” Kavanagh said.

But Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, found her own bit of irony in Kavanagh’s comments.

She said the Pilgrims were fleeing religious oppression. “But when they came here, ironically, what they did is they subjugated and oppressed and murdered hundreds of millions of people in the name of their religion,” she said.

Before approving the measure, the majority rejected a series of amendments proposed by Rep. Mark Cardenas, D-Phoenix, to limit its scope. These included carve-outs to bar use of a religious defense in cases of higher education, renting and taxi transportation.

6 comments

  1. What next? The comeback of signs saying NO JEWS OR DOGS ALLOWED. Plenty of those around even in the 1950′s. It’s not too difficult to remember when Irish Catholics were considered vermin in parts of this country. Is it all coming back?

  2. Just another “saint” shoving his hatred down everybody’s throats. It’s okay, he’s gonna be GOD when he grows up.

  3. So will the ersatz Christian business owners be handing out 10 commandment questionnaires to customers. If they answer “yes’ to any of the top 10 from Mount Sinai will they be denied service? Oh an I don’t think homosexuality is even in the top 10.

  4. Really? This is what we are going to throw nail polish and cry over? Businesses have always reserved the right to refuse service to anyone this bill is absolutely pointless, yet this is breaking new such discrimination :’(.

    Pro tip don’t make out with your gay s.o. at the table and they wouldn’t know the difference. This stupid coddled culture where everyone just finds something that offends them is absolutely pathetic. Hey religious people gays are never going to stop. Hey gay people quit getting offended that your a total blasphemy in religious peoples eyes. If this is to much to handle and you just can’t take all this anymore do us a favor and give head to a revolver. At least then we could focus on important matters and not this total pussification of America.

  5. At the Wingspan rally this past week against SB 1062 Arizona GOP House Representative Ethan Orr showed up and stated he did not vote for 1062. Lets get one thing straight, strangely enough Ethan Orr did NOT speak out against the bill from the House floor. Mr. Orr said what he did because he’s up for re-election in a Democratic LD and has, for some time now been trying to portray himself as a “moderate”. At the Wingspan rally just as Mr. Orr was finishing his little talk I asked him where he stood on marriage equality (was was NOT amused). His answer was a political non-answer wherein he stated that “people should be allowed to marry or not marry as their religion dictates”. He than ran off before I could ask the next logical question which would have been “So you agree that the State should allow for same-sex marriage?” Simply put: Ethan Orr is no friend to the LGBT community, he is NOT a “moderate”…he is a tried and true Arizona GOP tool worried about holding on to his office this November.

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