TUCSON, Ariz. — After an intense national outcry by the gay community, its supporters, business owners and Arizona political leaders, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has vetoed a controversial bill that would have bolstered a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion.
In a televised address from Phoenix, Brewer said the bill was worded too broadly and could result in “unintended and negative consequences” for the state.
Brewer said SB 1062 does not address a “specific or pressing concern” and that it “has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.”
Critics had described the bill as anti-gay, unconstitutional and divisive — and potentially harmful to Arizona’s economy and reputation.
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Proponents say the bill was misrepresented. They stressed that it was not a discriminatory bill and was intended to protect religious freedom.
The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature last week, was met with quick and widespread criticism — prompting three Republicans who voted for the measure to reverse course and join a chorus of people calling for Brewer to veto it.
Some foes of the legislation threatened to boycott Arizona if the bill became law, much as some groups boycotted the state after the passage of a tough anti-illegal immigration law in 2010.
That possibility worried some companies and business organizations, which also urged Brewer to veto it.
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines joined American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta in expressing opposition to the bill.
Alaska CEO Brad Tilden sent a strongly worded letter to Brewer urging a veto.
“This divisive law implies that all are not welcome, that diversity is not tolerated, and that a healthy business climate is an acceptable sacrifice to special interests,” Tilden wrote.
Tilden’s letter offered an economic argument, stating that the proposed law “regardless of its intent, will have a chilling effect on travel to Arizona and negatively impact the state’s economy in other ways.”
Other companies expressing opposition were Apple and Marriott. The Arizona Super Bowl Committee also came out against the bill, saying it would “deal a significant blow” to the state’s economy. Arizona is scheduled to host the 2015 Super Bowl.
The Hispanic National Bar Association said Wednesday that it would move its 40th annual convention, scheduled for September 2015 in Phoenix, to some other location because of SB 1062.
Republican leaders also urged a veto. Among them were former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Arizona’s U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake.
Technically, the bill would have expanded the definition of the free exercise of religion, allowing a faithful person to adhere to his or her beliefs in practice. It would have also expanded the definition of “person” to include any business, association or corporation.
Arizona’s bill was similar to proposals in other states, including ones that failed in Kansas and Idaho. Another is under consideration in Utah.
The legislation came as support for same-sex marriage is gaining momentum in the courts, and on the heels of two cases in which state courts sided with gay couples in wedding-related lawsuits. In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. And in Colorado, a state judge ruled against a baker who had refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.
Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement.
“My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona,” Brewer said at a news conference.
The Republican governor said she gave the legislation careful deliberation in talking to her lawyers, as well as citizens, businesses and lawmakers on both sides of the debate. Her office said it received more than 40,000 calls and emails on the legislation, with most of them urging a veto.
Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican who is running for governor and voted for the bill, said he is disappointed by the veto.
“I am sorry to hear that Governor Brewer has vetoed this bill. I’m sure it was a difficult choice for her, but it is a sad day when protecting liberty is considered controversial,” Melvin said.
The Center for Arizona Policy helped write the bill and argued it was needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.
“It is truly a disappointing day in our state and nation when lies and personal attacks can overshadow the truth,” said Cathi Herrod, the leader of the group.
The bill was inspired by incidents in other states in which florists, photographers and bakers were sued for refusing to cater to same-sex couples.
But it would have allowed much broader religious exemptions by business owners.
A range of critics — who included business leaders and figures in both national political parties — said it was broadly discriminatory and would have permitted all sorts of denials of service, allowing, say, a Muslim taxi driver to refuse to pick up a woman traveling solo.
Supporters said the bill was needed to allow people to live and work by their religious beliefs.
“This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” State Sen. Steve Yarbrough said during debate on the measure last week. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”
The measure is the latest initiative in Arizona to set off a political firestorm. Arizona is still struggling to repair its image and finances after the boycotts and bad publicity it endured after the passage of a stern immigration law in 2010, which gave police officers the right to stop people whom they suspected of being in the country illegally and made it a crime for illegal immigrants to hold jobs.
The state also faced a boycott almost 20 years ago, after voters initially refused to recognize the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday. At that time, the state was also set to host the Super Bowl, but the NFL, looking to avoid controversy, moved the game to Pasadena, Calif.
The veto does not mean the end of the debate. A bill introduced in January by state Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Republican, proposes to amend a section of the state’s statutes regarding discrimination in public places to say that it would not “require a church to ecumenically recognize, facilitate or solemnize a marriage that is inconsistent with the sincerely held belief, doctrine or tenet of the church.”
Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and
The Associated Press