A national debate over religious and gay rights in the United States is coming to a head in Arizona, where a who’s who of political, corporate and sporting America is taking sides.
The Arizona legislature passed a bill last week allowing businesses whose owners cite sincerely held religious beliefs to deny service to gays. It allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defence in any action brought by the government or individuals claiming discrimination.
The legislation has caused a national uproar. The chorus of opposition has grown each day, with Arizona’s business community, the state’s Super Bowl Committee and both Republican U.S. senators calling for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto the bill.
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the latest prominent voice to weigh in and urge Brewer to veto the legislation.
Apple Corp., which plans to build a new plant in the state that would create more than 2,000 jobs, has directly urged the governor to reject the bill, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Other reports have named Delta Air Lines Inc., AT&T Inc., Marriott International Inc., and American Airlines Group Inc. as opposing the Arizona bill and similar moves in other states.
Arizona is due to host the 2015 Super Bowl, but that too might be jeopardized by the bill. A statement from the National Football League reported on Wednesday by NFL Network’s Albert Breer reads: “Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard.”
Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed. The efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.
Brewer will probably spend the next day or more pondering Senate Bill 1062 before deciding whether to sign or veto the legislation.
There is widespread speculation that Brewer will veto the bill, but she has not said how she will act, as is her long-time practice with pending legislation.
Political observers in Arizona cautioned that the governor is deliberate and not prone to act hastily, despite the growing calls from business, politicians of all stripes, and civil rights groups for a veto.
“She’s no rookie to these high-profile deals – she gives both sides their due,” said Doug Cole, a political consultant whose firm has run all of Brewer’s campaigns for decades.
Several Republican senators who pushed the bill through the legislature are now calling for a veto as well, but they cite “inaccurate” information about the measure for igniting a firestorm. They argue that the bill is designed only to protect business owners with strong religious beliefs from discrimination lawsuits that have happened in other states. Some blame the media for blowing the law out of proportion.
Democrats say that argument does not wash and call SB1062 “toxic” legislation that allows discrimination. They said they warned Republicans who voted for the bill that it was destined for trouble.
The bill was pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal simply clarifies existing state law and is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts.