Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday he does not believe that Arizona’s lack of laws protecting gays and transgender individuals from discrimination will prevent the state from landing future national events as it has in North Carolina.
And he has no intention of asking the Legislature to change the statutes.
Ducey spoke at a formal kickoff promoting the events surrounding the NCAA Final Four tournament that will be in Arizona for the first time in early April. It includes not just the games themselves but a series of events in and around Phoenix and Glendale for fans.
The location was awarded in November 2014.
Last year, the NCAA removed all events for this season out of North Carolina after that state’s legislature took a series of actions the board of directors concluded ran fold of the organizations “values of inclusion and gender equality.’’
On Wednesday, Dan Gavitt, NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, acknowledged that Arizona’s statutes that prevent discrimination on the basis of things like race, gender and religion do not extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. But Gavitt said he could not specifically say why the NCAA board did not consider that to be a disqualifier when it made the 2014 announcement.
“Everyone knows I’m against discrimination in any form,’’ Ducey said when asked about NCAA policy and the decision to strip that state of future events. But he said what happened in North Carolina “was different in many ways because it happened during the legislative session.’’
In a statement at the time, the NCAA pointed out that North Carolina not only does not have laws protecting sexual orientation but its legislature voted to void any local laws that run contrary. There also is the fact that state law provides legal protections for government officials to refuse services to the LGBT community.
And then there was the bill making it illegal to use a bathroom other than the one on someone’s birth certificate.
Arizona Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, introduced virtually identical legislation in 2013 when he was a representative, complete with language to overturn local ordinances to the contrary. But it never made it into law.
“I want to see opportunity for all,’’ Ducey said Wednesday. “And that’s what we’ve done at the state level.’’
There is an executive order signed in 2003 by Janet Napolitano making it illegal for state agencies to discriminate in employment practices based on sexual orientation. But that still leaves the fact that it is legal under Arizona law for businesses and individuals to discriminate against gays and transgender individuals
“I’m not in the habit of telling the Legislature and other elected officials what they should be doing,’’ the governor said.
Wasn’t that exactly what was in his annual State of the State speech to the Legislature?
“Well, on K-12 education and how we’re going to protect children in foster care, these are state responsibilities,’’ he responded.
But the governor’s nearly hour-long speech earlier this month also included a series of other things he wants lawmakers to enact, from expanding the amount of time individuals can collect Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to providing legal immunity for those who break into cars to rescue children and animals.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, also at Wednesday’s event, said he is glad the NCAA decided to keep the Final Four in Arizona. But he said it’s necessary for both the city and state to “move forward’’ with expansive human rights protections.
“I believe that the state of Arizona should pass a non-discrimination law that would protect all LGBT citizens,’’ Stanton said. And he said it’s not just to ensure that Phoenix and Arizona can get similar events in the future.
“We’re competing for talent,’’ the mayor said.
“We want Arizona and all of our communities to be as competitive for talent as possible,’’ he continued. “And when you pass laws like that it sends the right statement about your values as a community.’’
The absence of anti-discrimination protection is only one area of Arizona law that could be seen by those seeking to site conferences, conventions and sports events here. A separate section of law says school districts may not include anything in a sex-education course that “portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style.’’
Gavitt said while he can’t answer questions about the board’s decisions about where to site — and not site — tournaments, he said the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity remains a priority.
“The board of governors has made a statement that being inclusive and being true to our core values at the NCAA and our member institutions, and hosting events in communities that are inclusive and welcoming is important,’’ Gavitt said. “That statement has been pretty clear and I believe that is how we will continue to operate going forward.’’