Arizona passes bill legalizing religiously-motivated discrimination

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Arizona has given discrimination the legal stamp of approval with the passage of SB 1062, which allows the refusal of service to anyone if doing otherwise would violate a “sincerely held religious belief.”

Under the new legislation, any “individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity” is legally excused from anti-discrimination ordinances if there is a conflict between the law and their “religious mission.”

Republican Senator Steve Yarbrough, who introduced and pushed for the bill, said that his motivation behind it was the 2006 case of photographer Elane Huguenin, who was charged with discrimination by New Mexico’s Supreme Court for using religion as her reason behind refusing to photograph the commitment ceremony of a same-sex couple.

Though Yarborough acknowledged to reporter Howard Fischer that the bill’s impact could reach as widely as hotels refusing rooms to LGBT people, individuals discriminating against unmarried women, or refusing employment to individuals with different beliefs, in an interview with the Arizona Republic, he claimed that legally prohibited discrimination remains prohibited.

In a debate on February 19, Yarbrough added the claim that allowing groups such as the LGBT community equal rights is in itself discriminating against those with homophobic views: “This bill is not about allowing discrimination. This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

The Republicans in the Arizona Senate agreed, giving it final approval in a vote of 17-13.

Arizona Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar said in a statement released shortly after the passage of the bill:

SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.

Legislation of this kind has been attempted this year in Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Idaho. Each of those attempts failed after prominent members of the business community spoke against the measures. While our state continues to recover from the public relations nightmare of SB 1070, the Republican supporters of this bill are willing to elicit the inevitable backlash and boycotts that will result from its passage.

Arizona does not need this bill, Arizonans do not want this bill and there is no place for this bill in our modern society. We have come too far to turn back the clock with such a disgraceful assault on members of our community based on their sexual orientation.

The bill now goes to the desk of Governor Jan Brewer, a Tea Party Republican, who has five days to decide whether to sign it into law, veto it, or allow it to become law through inaction.

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