Gov. Jan Brewer at Center of Gay Discrimination Fight
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 08:12 AM
By: Drew MacKenzie
Three Arizona Republican state senators have had a change of heart on a controversial bill they backed that would allow business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians on the grounds of their religious conviction – and now they are urging Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the measure.
As fierce opposition gains momentum to the measure being criticized as anti-gay, Sens. Adam Driggs, Steve Pierce and Bob Worsley have written to Brewer, a Republican, asking her to reject Senate Bill 1062, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Brewer, who overturned a similar bill last year, has the power to veto the legislation or sign it into law. And her decision was expected to come as early as today after she returns from a National Governors Association convention in Washington.
In their letter, the senators said, "While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens' religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance.
“These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm. As Arizona leaders, we feel it is important to loudly proclaim that we strongly condemn discrimination in any form."
The senators changed their minds on their position just days after they voted with the entire 17-member Senate GOP caucus for the legislation. And with three GOP senators joining all 13 Senate Democrats in opposition, there would be enough votes to defeat the measure in a re-vote today.
The state lawmakers have joined forces with both Arizona senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, who have urged Brewer to veto the measure.
Brewer has been a conservative champion during her five years in office, although her record on gay rights is questionable, according to CNN. Her GOP supporters were, in fact, surprised last year when she enrolled Arizona in the controversial expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. She called it a "moral" obligation to provide health care for the poor and uninsured.
And she gave no hint to which way she was leaning on SB1062 when she told CNN, "I have to look at what it says and what the law says and take that information and do the right thing."
The law, which would allow business owners the right to turn down service to anyone if it violates their strongly-held religious brief, was sparked by a case in New Mexico where the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a wedding photographer who refused to take pictures of their commitment ceremony.
Earlier this month Tennessee introduced a similar bill, which would allow businesses such as venue owners, caterers, cake makers, party planners, photographers and florists to refuse service to gay and lesbian marriages if they go against their "sincerely held religious beliefs."
The Arizona legislation has led to a political firestorm, with business owners claiming that it will lead to a boycott of the state while gay rights leaders maintain that it’s unconstitutional and discriminates against gays and lesbians.
But supporters claim the bill is not intended to discriminate against anyone, but to allow individuals to practice their religious convictions. "The religious beliefs of all Arizonans must be respected, and this bill does nothing more than affirm that," Republican state Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who introduced the bill, told the Times.
Christians, in particular, believe that their faith defines marriage solely between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality is a sin. They claim that by having to take part in a same-sex ceremony under the intended law would force them to act against their religious beliefs.
But American Airlines and Marriott are hoping that Brewer overturns SB1062 because they fear that Arizona will feel a backlash from potential visitors who will be turned off by the law, says the Times.
In a letter to the governor, Marriott wrote, "It is exceedingly difficult for us to sell Arizona as a destination against a backdrop of negative attention suggesting certain travelers or conference attendees would not be welcome here — as a matter of law."
Apple, which announced in November that it would open a manufacturing plant employing 700 workers in Mesa, has also voiced its opposition to the measure, while the Arizona Super Bowl Committee says it would "deal a significant blow" to the state's economy. Arizona is scheduled to host next year’s Super Bowl.
The liberal think tank Center for American Progress pointed out that a previous boycott following passage of the immigration bill cost the state more than $23 million in lost taxes and $350 million in spending. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council has also called on Brewer to veto the bill, according to the Times.
"With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world’s stage,” the group said in a letter to the governor. "This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts."
The Times also revealed that a string of protest petitions on Change.org have received a great deal of support, especially one created by Jacqueline Todd of Phoenix, which has 60,000 signatures.
The bill, however, is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. CAP President Cathi Herrod has urged Brewer to sign the legislation while deriding what she called "fear-mongering" from its opponents.