After days of pressure from business groups and activists, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a controversial religious liberty bill, saying it is broadly worded, could have unintended consequences and attempts to fix a problem that doesn’t exist in Arizona.
“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated,” Brewer told reporters during a brief press conference on the Ninth Floor of the Executive Tower.
Brewer said she laid out an agenda at the beginning of the legislative session that includes a responsible budget and reforms to the state’s troubled Child Protective Services program. Yet SB1062 is the first policy bill the Legislature sent her, Brewer said.
The governor said she has defended religious liberty and has the record to prove it. But Brewer said SB1062 is unnecessary.
“Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination. Going forward, let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans.”
Brewer, a longtime opponent of same-sex marriage with a strong record on social conservative issues, acknowledged that America is changing when it comes to traditional marriage.
“I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged like never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve,” Brewer said.
The veto was widely anticipated due to pressure from the business community and nationwide coverage of SB1062, which critics say would permit discrimination against the LGBT community. Advocates say it would strengthen religious liberty by protecting people who might otherwise be forced to do things that would violate their faith.
Business groups such as the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and corporations such as Apple, which is building a new plant in Mesa, have urged Brewer to veto the bill, arguing that it would paint a negative image of Arizona, discourage businesses from moving to the state and potentially sparking boycotts. Some have suggested that the National Football League would pull the 2015 Super Bowl from Arizona if the governor signs the bill, as it did after Arizona voters rejected a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1990.
As expected, the business community lauded Brewer’s veto of S1062, saying she lived up to her promise to do the right thing for Arizona.
“Arizona is an open, welcoming place, which Gov. Brewer reaffirmed today,” Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President and CEO Glenn Hamer.
Todd Sanders, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, echoed the sentiment.
The two major business chambers had aggressively lobbied for a veto, joining scores of companies that were wary of the hit to Arizona’s reputation following the maelstrom over the measure.
“We look forward to continuing to work with our elected officials to ensure that neither individual liberties nor our economy are threatened by unintended consequences to legislation,” Sanders said.
The Center for Arizona Policy, the social conservative lobbying group that pushed SB1062, bemoaned Brewer’s decision and called it a “tragic day.”
“Today’s veto of SB 1062 marks a sad day for Arizonans who cherish and understand religious liberty. SB 1062 passed the legislature for one reason only: to guarantee that all Arizonans would be free to live and work according to their faith. Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits. Essentially, they succeeded in getting a veto of a bill that does not even exist,” CAP President Cathi Herrod said in a press statement.
The governor took no questions after her three-minute statement. But she elaborated further on her decision in her veto letter, noting that despite supporters’ assertions that SB1062 will protect businesses, the business community overwhelmingly opposed it.
In her veto letter, Brewer also said the concerns raised by advocates of SB1062 are not unfounded.
“As a result of actions taken by the Obama Administration, as well as some federal and out-of-state courts, I am increasingly concerned about government’s encroachment upon our religious freedoms,” she said.
Democrats praised the governor for vetoing a bill they wish had never made it out of either chamber of the Arizona Legislature.
“SB1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,” said Senate Minority Leader Anna Tovar, D-Phoenix. “With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans would have found themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said Republicans were wrong to argue that the bill would have no impact on Arizonans or make any changes other than to promote “religious freedom.” He noted that it undermined anti-LGBT discrimination ordinances in several Arizona cities.
“What this was going to cause was a situation where we take away rights from cities that we do know have anti-discrimination ordinances: Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff. We said that repeatedly on the House floor,” Gallego said. “This law would’ve directly contradicted them and stopped those ordinances from moving forward.”
-Luige Del Puerto and Ben Giles contributed to this report.