Arizona, the state known for passing one of the nation’s toughest immigration laws, is making national headlines again for passing another controversial bill.
This time it’s not an immigration bill, but rather a legislation that would allow businesses to deny services to members of the LGBT community and others if the business owners believe that doing so would “substantially burden” their right to exercise their religious beliefs.
Both chambers of the Arizona State Legislature approved the bill, known as SB 1062, this week. The Senate voted 17-13 along party lines on Wednesday to approve the bill, with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats opposing it. A day later, the House voted to approve the bill, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it.
SB 1062 now heads to Republican Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk for her signature.
Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler), the lead sponsor of SB 1062, has defended his bill against critics who say it would lead to discrimination against gays and others based on religious beliefs.
“This bill is not about discrimination,” he said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “It’s about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”
But Democratic lawmakers, like Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix, and other opponents of the bill argue the opposite. They say Yarbrough’s legislation would give people a “license to discriminate.”
Speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, Gallardo expressed his concerns with the bill.
“I don’t argue that folks have the right to religious freedom. I don’t argue that,” Gallardo said. “I think we all have the right to our religious beliefs, but I do not agree that we have the right to discriminate because of our religious beliefs.”
He added that he is also concerned that the bill could “invite some sort of discrimination against those that are gay and lesbian.”
Arizona residents react to SB 1062
Among Arizona residents, SB 1062 is receiving more criticism than support.
Lydia Guzman, a long-time immigrant rights and civil rights advocate in Arizona, said the bill could impact a broad group of people, not just the LGBT community. She told VOXXI that under the bill, a business owner could refuse to hire someone or to fire an employee based on certain traits.
“There’s a lot of things that different faiths are against,” Guzman said. “For example, different faiths are against divorce, so is a divorced dad going to be fired? What about the lady who just happened to have a child out of wedlock, or what about someone who is taking birth control pills?
“Are those reasons to fire someone and then hide behind this bill because they’re protected?” she added.
She also warned of the economic consequences Arizona would face if Brewer signs the bill into law, especially as the state prepares to host the 2015 Super Bowl. Guzman said she’s afraid businesses will avoid coming to Arizona the same way they did after the state passed SB 1070 in 2010.
“I think the governor should think very carefully about this bill considering the fact that we have the Super Bowl just around the corner,” Guzman said. “If she’s going to sign it, she has to think very carefully about what this is going to do to our state.”
On the other side of the coin are groups, like the Center for Arizona Policy, that are supporting SB 1062. The group describes itself as standing up for pro-life, pro-family, and conservative principles. It is calling on its members to encourage Brewer to sign the bill into law, saying the bill “protects your right to live and work according to your faith.”
“It is critical that the Governor hears from YOU that no one should be forced to violate their religious beliefs merely because they go to work or start a business!” the group states on its website.