Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is facing pressure from both sides of a heated debate over religious rights, as she weighs whether to sign a bill that would legally protect businesses that deny services to customers for religious reasons.
The bill cleared the Arizona Legislature last week. Opponents are calling the measure “state-sanctioned discrimination” and raising such scenarios as gays being denied restaurant service or medical treatment when a business owner’s religion doesn’t condone homosexuality.
The bill updates existing Arizona law on the “exercise of religion” and protects businesses, corporations and people from lawsuits if they deny services based on a “sincere” religious belief.
Supporters argue the bill is about protecting religious freedom, not about allowing discrimination. And they frequently cite the case of a New Mexico photographer sued for refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple.
“This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith,” said state GOP Sen. Steve Yarbrough, the bill sponsor.
Brewer, a Republican, has five days to sign or veto the bill once it gets to her desk but has yet to clearly indicate what she will do. Brewer suggested over the weekend that she supports a business’s freedom of choice but remains unsure whether that has to be put into state law. She vetoed a similar bill proposed last year by Yarbrough.
Despite some support in the state Legislature, prominent Republicans have pressed the GOP governor for a veto, including Sen. John McCain. Five of seven Republican candidates for governor also have called for the bill to be vetoed or withdrawn. The latest is Frank Riggs, a former California congressman, who said it is a “solution in search of a problem.”