Companies from Apple Inc. (AAPL) to American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) called on Arizona Governor Jan Brewer to veto a bill permitting businesses to refuse service on religious grounds, a measure that opponents say is meant to allow discrimination against gays.
The measure passed last week prompted tourists to cancel reservations and companies to say they would locate elsewhere if it became law. The bill threatens to reverse an economic recovery in a state among those hardest hit by the housing crash, opponents said, and to cement a reputation fostered by a 2010 anti-immigration law and a fight in the 1990s over celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
After residents and businesses protested the bill over the weekend, three Republican senators who voted for the measure changed their minds and asked Brewer to veto it. NBC News reported today that three people close to the governor said she is likely to do that. Brewer wasn’t immediately available for comment.
“There is genuine concern throughout the business community that this bill, if signed into law, would jeopardize all that has been accomplished so far,” Doug Parker, chief executive officer of Fort Worth, Texas-based American, wrote in a letter to Brewer yesterday. He said that it has the potential to reduce the desire of companies to relocate in the state and to repel convention business.
“Our economy thrives best when the doors of commerce are open to all,” he wrote.
US Airways Group Inc., a predecessor of American, traces its roots back to a company founded in Phoenix in 1981. The newly merged American, created in December, has promised to keep the city as a flight hub for three years.
The Arizona legislation would allow businesses to refuse service to any person based on the owner’s religious beliefs. Asked Feb. 22 whether she plans to sign the bill this week, Brewer said she needed to review it.
“I don’t have to make a decision until next Friday, so I’ve got plenty of time,” Brewer said at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington.
Brewer also declined to say whether next year’s Super Bowl could move from Arizona if the bill is in effect.
“You should address that issue to the Super Bowl,” she said.
Aaron Baer, a spokesman for the Center for Arizona Policy, which supports the measure, said it would allow residents to run their businesses in accordance with their faith.
“The attacks and the misinformation and outright lies have nothing to do with what Senate Bill 1062 is all about,” he said. “It brings Arizona in line with what a majority of courts and circuit courts have ruled.”
Other companies also communicated to Brewer that they opposed the measure. Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Lowell McAdam sent a letter to the governor yesterday encouraging a veto, said Jenny Weaver, a spokeswoman for the company.
“On behalf of Verizon’s customers and employees in the state of Arizona, I strongly urge you to veto SB 1062,” McAdam said in the letter. “This legislation will needlessly open the door to ugly discrimination.”
Phoenix, Arizona-based PetSmart Inc. is part of the coalition opposing the bill. The retailer of pet services and goods, which has had its headquarters in the state for 26 years, wouldn’t move if the bill becomes law, yet it’s working with lawmakers to fight it, said Michelle Friedman, director of corporate communications.
“It’s unnecessary, discriminatory and ultimately very damaging to Arizona,” Friedman said in a phone interview. “It’s sending a very negative message to the rest of the world. We think Arizona is a great place to do business today, and the legislation really undermines all that.”
AT&T Inc. also urged Brewer to veto the measure, saying it’s unclear how the law would be enforced and how it would affect the rights of the company’s employees and customers.
“While the stated intention may not be to discriminate,” the company said in a statement, “we believe the actual language could open the door to discrimination against anyone, including those the bill is intended to protect.”
Intel Corp., which has a plant in Chandler, Arizona, said it also has concerns.
“We are supporting the effort of the business association, of which we are a member, to submit letters to the governor to urge her to veto the bill,” said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman. “We are analyzing the applicability of the law in terms of what it could mean.”
Southwest Airlines joined the chorus of companies voicing strong opinions about the right-to-refuse-service legislation on Brewer’s desk.
“We believe in an inclusive environment that embraces and values each customer and employee,” said Whitney Eichinger, a spokeswoman for the Dallas-based company. “We could never support legislation that runs counter to our values of respect for each person and our strong nondiscrimination policy.”
After the Republican-controlled state Senate approved the measure Feb. 21, businesses and gay rights groups lobbied the governor to veto it. Cupertino, California-based Apple, which is opening a facility this month in Mesa employing 700 people making a material used to strengthen iPhone screens, also asked Brewer to kill the bill.
Hundreds protested it yesterday at the statehouse in Phoenix, the Arizona Republic reported.
Furor over the bill prompted several Republicans who voted for the measure to change their minds. In a letter yesterday to Brewer, Senators Adam Driggs, Bob Worsley and Steve Pierce urged the governor to veto it.
“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,” the senators wrote. “These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm.”
If the three lawmakers had joined the Senate’s 13 Democrats to cast votes opposing the measure it would not have passed.
Arizona’s bill is similar to measures proposed in Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Mississippi and Kansas in response to the gay-marriage movement. Seventeen states, plus the District of Columbia, have legalized the practice.
“This is a new strategy,” said Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union in New York. “As more states and the public are recognizing the freedom to marry, proponents of this legislation have been quite explicit in their desire to use freedom of religion to discriminate.”
Arizona business groups said publicity surrounding the bill’s quick trip through the Republican-controlled legislature prompted firms to reconsider their commitment to the state.
“This legislation will likely have profound negative effects on our business community for years to come,” wrote James Lundy, chairman of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, and Barry Broome, its CEO, in a Feb. 21 letter to Brewer.
“With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world’s stage,” they added. “This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts.”
A National Football League spokesman said the organization was following the issue.
“Our policies emphasize tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation,” Brian McCarthy said in an e-mailed statement.
The NFL may hire its first openly homosexual player at its draft in April. Michael Sam, a University of Missouri linebacker who is preparing for the draft, said Feb. 10 that in August he told his teammates and coaches that he was gay.
There is money on the line in Arizona. A boycott sparked by an immigration crackdown in 2010 cost it $141 million in lost contracts and convention business, according to a report commissioned by the Center for American Progress, a Washington research group that says it was founded “to support the progressive movement.”
The Phoenix-based Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association received hundreds of calls and e-mails from visitors planning to travel to the state on business, or for leisure, said Debbie Johnson, CEO of the 500-member group.
“People said they were either canceling trips or they would never visit again if the governor didn’t veto the bill,” said Johnson. “We’ve also gotten messages from our members saying, ‘Hey, we got hit with numerous cancellations.’”
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