Many Republican lawmakers continue to defend Senate Bill 1062 in the wake of Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto, including Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson).
The bill would have made it easier for businesses to refuse to do business with individuals based on religious beliefs. The bill would have required such businesses to document their religious objections, but would have then presumably given them additional protections against lawsuits.
However, the law spurred a national outcry and two weeks of intense politicking based on the assertion that it would encourage discrimination against gays and lesbians and other groups. The National Football League was reportedly considering moving the Super Bowl out of Arizona if it passed and many businesses and political leaders urged Gov. Brewer to veto it.
Rep. Barton voted for the bill, one of the first bills of the session to make it to the governor’s desk.
In response to an e-mail request, she said “my intent in voting for the bill was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, but the bill appears to have been mischaracterized by a vocal minority of groups and political activists as a weapon for religious intolerance. While I do not agree with opponents’ mischaracterization of the bill, the media maelstrom and public backlash is both damaging to our state and a distracting sideshow from the important business of the Legislature. I believe that equality is a two-way avenue of respect. Discrimination in any direction is both ugly and more importantly, destructive. Similarly, the fight for religious tolerance and religious liberty must be defended as a cornerstone of our republic and our Bill of Rights.”
Sen. Chester Crandell (R-Heber) and Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff) also represent Rim Country in the Legislature, but they did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
Gov. Jan Brewer’s veto statement said the bill “does not seek to address a specific and present concern related to Arizona businesses.” At a press conference, she said the bill’s broad wording would likely create more problems than it solved.
Ironically, existing state law does not interfere with the right of businesses to refuse service to anyone. Some legal experts said the law would have had little practical effect. Several existing state and federal laws guarantee freedom of religion — including the 1993 Federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The roots of the controversy go back to a case in New Mexico in which a photographer turned down a job photographing a gay marriage. The couple sued and won a judgment against the photographer.
The religious freedom issue has also come into play in other policy debates, like whether a Catholic hospital could be required to perform abortions or whether religiously-based businesses had to provide health insurance that included prohibited practices, like abortion or birth control.
A number of other states including Georgia, Kansas, Tennessee and South Dakota are all considering similar bills — but the Arizona Legislature struck first.
The bill provoked widespread national coverage, almost all of it negative. The state once again found itself the punch line on political commentary shows and the object of threats of boycotts and canceled conventions.
Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake both urged the governor to veto the bill, saying it would hurt businesses and give the state a black eye. After the veto, Sen. McCain put out a statement saying, “I appreciate the decision by Gov. Brewer to veto this legislation. I hope that we can now move on from this controversy and assure the American people that everyone is welcome to live, work and enjoy our beautiful state of Arizona.”
Even three of the senators who voted for the measure issued statements urging the governor to veto it. Sen. Jeff Dial (R-Chandler) issued a statement saying he’d made a mistake in voting for the law. “Keeping government out of Arizonans’ lives is always my primary objective when voting on legislation. I will always support Arizonans’ right to religious freedom and protection under the First Amendment. However, I believe this legislation, though drafted with sincere intentions, mistakenly sends a message to our citizens, our businesses and the nation that Arizona is not ‘open for business’ as the governor so eloquently said. Unfortunately, our great nation has a history of discrimination, and I now recognize that this legislation, albeit unintentionally, has the potential to re-open those wounds.”
However, the issue may resurface soon.
Another bill making its way through the Legislature would give anyone performing a marriage ceremony the right to refuse to preside based on religious beliefs. Many religions do not recognize gay marriage, some don’t recognize a marriage outside the same religion and some don’t recognize divorce — and therefore a right to remarry. Ministers already have the right to only perform ceremonies if they choose, however critics say the language of the law could apply to justices of the peace and other people who perform marriage ceremonies.
In addition, the Center for Arizona Policy, which backed SB 1062, is pushing for several other measures that could also draw attention.
The House has already approved HB 2284, which would allow the state health department to conduct unannounced inspections of abortion clinics without a warrant — which is similar to a bill introduced a decade ago by the Center that was ultimately overturned in court, according to a report in Capitol Times.
The Center has also backed a bill that would expand the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, which direct tax money to private schools. In the 2013-14 school year some 750 students received about $10 million in state money to attend private schools, according to a report in the Cronkite News Service.
Another bill given preliminary approval by the House would lower the property tax assessments on any property leased to a religious organization, at a cost to the state of an estimated $2.1 million.