AZ Senate: Religious Business Owners Canrefuse Gays ; Opponent: Bill Promotes Bias; Sponsor: That Twists Its Intent

By Fischer, Howard | AZ Daily Star, February 20, 2014 | Go to article overview

AZ Senate: Religious Business Owners Canrefuse Gays ; Opponent: Bill Promotes Bias; Sponsor: That Twists Its Intent


Fischer, Howard, AZ Daily Star


PHOENIX -- State senators voted Wednesday to let businesses refuse to serve gays based on owners' "sincerely held" religious beliefs.

The 17-13 vote was along party lines, with Republicans in the majority.

It came after supporters defeated an attempt to extend existing employment laws that bar discrimination based on religion and race to include sexual orientation. Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said that's a separate issue from what he is trying to do.

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said that's precisely the issue.

"The bill opens the door for discrimination against gays and lesbians," he said.

Yarbrough, however, said foes of SB 1062 are twisting what his legislation says.

"This bill is not about discrimination," he said. "It's about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."

A similar measure is awaiting a vote in the House, probably today.

While approving the right to refuse service based on religious beliefs, the majority rebuffed a bid by Gallardo to require those businesses asserting that right to post signs at their front door.

"If there is an organization or a business out there that wants to use the defense of religious freedom, I believe that consumers have a right to know," Gallardo said. Yarbrough, however, got the GOP majority to reject the amendment.

Gallardo said that opposition is no surprise, saying any firm that openly advertises such discrimination would be boycotted and go out of business.

Arizona already has laws that protect individuals and businesses from any state action that substantially interferes with their right to exercise their religion. This bill would extend that protection to cover what essentially are private transactions.

The push follows a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court that a gay couple could sue a photographer who refused on religious grounds to take pictures of their nuptials. Yarbrough's legislation would preclude such a ruling here.

But Gallardo said this legislation makes one person's religious freedom an attack on others.

"We all have the right to our religious beliefs," he said. "But I do not agree that we have the right to discriminate because of our religious beliefs. …

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