It is front page news in Arizona but a bill passed by the state’s legislature that would allow business owners in the state to deny service to gays and lesbians is arousing controversy throughout the United States. Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer is being pressured to veto the bill under which to deny service, the business owner has to have sincerely held religious beliefs.
National Public Radio reports that the legislation’s wording has become so controversial that even some lawmakers who voted for it are now regretting it.
Jay Michaelson, who studies religious freedom for the progressive Political Research Associates told NPR a number of other states considered and rejected laws similar to Arizona’s. The Arizona law would allow business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians if the owner’s religion says homosexuality is wrong. But Jay Michaelson says the bill could affect virtually anyone who deals with a business owner claiming religious protection.
MICHAELSON: And, in fact, this law was so broad that it could cover anybody. So if I’m a fundamentalist Christian who holds Jews responsible for the death of Jesus Christ, I could put a sign saying no Jews allowed in my hotel or my restaurant or my sports stadium for that matter.
Doug Napier of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is trying to get similar bills passed across the country, sees things quite differently.
DOUG NAPIER: This is a human dignity bill. It’s a human rights bill. It’s an anti-discrimination bill, so people of faith have a safe place in Arizona. That’s all it is.
The inspiration for the Arizona bill was a court decision in neighboring New Mexico last year. That state’s Supreme Court ruled that an Albuquerque photographer could not refuse to take pictures of a gay couple. The Arizona law was intended to protect business owners from similar lawsuits but what may have begun as a religious rights issue has quickly become a civil rights issue. Both U.S. senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, have come out against the new bill. “This is going to hurt the state of Arizona’s economy and frankly our image,” Sen. McCain told CNN.