Gay discrimination is about to become law in Arizona, if the Governor, Janice Brewer, doesn’t veto it. A bill passed on Thursday allows businesses to refuse to serve people if they feel it is against their religious principles to do so. Bill SB 1062 has been strongly criticized as permitting discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. Arizona has already banned gay marriage through a 2008 constitutional amendment, and now the normal economic needs of gay citizens can potentially be withdrawn from them. Indeed, not just gay citizens will be affected, women seeking medical insurance that covers contraception, and potentially abortion, may also now be excluded.
The legislation was passed by a 33-27 vote in the Arizona House, having already being approved by the Senate. The vote was split along party lines in the Senate, in the House all but three Republicans voted in favor. Now the governor, who has vetoed similar legislation in the past, will have to decide whether or not to let this one through.
In three states, excluding Arizona, companies have refused to work at weddings or ceremonies for same sex marriages, and have been subsequently sued. The aim of bill SB 1062 is to provide explicit legal protections for companies that do the same in Arizona. Although similar legislation has been voted on in six other states, Arizona is the only place where it has passed. In Kansas, after the passing of an anti-gay bill in the State House by a clear majority, it was rejected by the State Senate, and died. It was then later disowned by the Kansas State House as well, after “careful consideration”. The situation in Arizona is now different, and gay discrimination could be about to become law.
Grassroots resistance to the measure has already appeared, in Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria, a sign clearly read: “We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators”. However, the political organisation behind the bill, The Centre for Arizona Policy (CAP), is asking visitors to it’s website to contact Gov. Brewer and ask her to pass the legislation. CAP states it’s purpose as defending life, marriage and family, and religious freedom. Defence of marriage in this instance meaning the exclusion of homosexual couples from normal economic activities, even as they themselves try to enter the institution.
Another Christian political organisation, the “Alliance Defending Freedom” (ADF) is demanding that Americans be allowed to live and work according to their faith. Again, gay Christians who wish to be married are excluded from this broad statement on discrimination. The ADF are also seeking to overturn sections of Obamacare that they don’t agree with, and raise money for the specific purpose of training Christian Law Students.
Critics argue that organisations such as CAP and ADF are deliberately ignoring the US constitution’s 1st Amendment, that prevents the establishment of a state religion, and are trying to use widespread anti-gay feeling to put religious law into effect. This issue has also been a significant distraction from the Arizona state government from finalising their own annual budget. Including a much needed restructuring of the state child care system, which has been criticised for leaving vulnerable children open to neglect and abuse.
It is expected that Gov. Jan Brewer will not welcome any law that brings anti-gay discrimination into effect, as she is focused on mending the Arizona economy, and not on narrow social issues.
By Andrew Willig