Arizona Gov. Vetoes Bill Seen Allowing Bias Against Gays

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to refuse service based on their own religious beliefs, rejecting a measure opponents said would allow discrimination against gays.

“I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberties have been violated,” Brewer, a Republican, said at press conference yesterday in Phoenix where she announced her decision. “The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

The measure, passed last week, prompted tourists to cancel reservations and companies to say they would locate elsewhere if it became law. Opponents said it threatened to reverse the economic recovery in a state among those hardest-hit by the housing crash, and cement a reputation fostered by a 2010 anti-immigration law, as well as a fight in the 1990s over celebrating the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

“Governor Brewer’s veto of Senate Bill 1062 solidifies her legacy as a pro-tourism and pro-business governor,” said Debbie Johnson, chief executive of the Phoenix-based Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association. “While our state has a lot of work to do to overcome the damage this legislation has caused, we are truly grateful for Governor Brewer’s leadership.”

Companies including Apple Inc., American Airlines Group Inc., Intel Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. called on Brewer to veto the bill, which would have permitted businesses to refuse service to any person based on the owner’s religious grounds. Opponents said the measure was meant to allow discrimination against gays.

Business Concern

“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 Feb. 24 letter to Brewer. He said it has the potential to reduce the desire of companies to relocate in the state and to repel convention business.

The measure drew support from some religious organizations.

“Today’s veto of SB 1062 marks a sad day for Arizonans who cherish and understand religious liberty,” Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. “Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits.” The Phoenix-based Center describes itself as pro-life and pro-family.

Opponents protested the bill in Arizona communities throughout the week, including hundreds who marched in front of the state’s Executive Tower last night, chanting “kill the bill,” according to the Arizona Republic.

Similar Bills

Arizona’s right-to-refuse-service legislation 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 marriage by same-sex couples.

“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. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council voiced concerns the measure might subject Super Bowl XLIX and events surrounding it to threats of boycotts.

Senators Oppose

The state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, urged Brewer to veto the bill, as did the Phoenix City Council.

A boycott sparked by an immigration crackdown in 2010 cost Arizona $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.”

Johnson, CEO of the 500-member Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, said she spent much of her time this week responding to e-mails from visitors planning to travel to the state on business, or for leisure.

“People said they were either canceling trips or they would never visit again if the governor didn’t veto the bill,” she said. “We’ve also gotten messages from our members saying, ‘Hey, we got hit with numerous cancellations.’”

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