The recent controversy surrounding a new law pertaining to gays in Arizona reveals a deeply divided state. Arizona is no stranger to controversial legislation or attracting national attention for such laws. The state passed an immigration bill known as SB1070 back in to 2010 that drew similar attention and controversy. Portions of that bill were overturned by a federal appeals court and legal battles surrounding the legislation continue today. This new bill is known as SB1062 and is currently awaiting the signature of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. (R)
SB1062 would permit Arizona businesses to deny services to certain individuals based on religious beliefs. The language is intended to apply to homosexuals and it would allow Arizona business owners to refuse to do business with such persons if it conflicted with their own religious beliefs. Advocates claim that the bill protects the freedom of religion by allowing individuals to conduct their business in accordance with their personal beliefs. It would shield business owners from any potential lawsuits from individuals claiming they were discriminated against if the business owner can demonstrate a “sincere religious belief.”
Opponents of the bill say that Arizona is creating legalized discrimination. They argue there is no need for any additional legal protections for business owners and that offering services to gays and lesbians does not constitute a violation of individual religious freedom. Frank Riggs, a Republican who plans to run for governor in Arizona, called the bill “a solution in search of a problem.” The opposition of not only Democrats but some Republicans as well reveals how divided Arizona is by this new controversy.
Several of the Arizona lawmakers who initially supported the bill have withdrawn their support in recent days. Three Republican state legislators have encouraged Governor Brewer to veto the bill, stating that while they still support the free choice of Arizona business owners, the intent of the bill has become misunderstood and potentially harmful to the state. Other prominent Arizona politicians, including both of the state’s U.S. senators, have voiced their opposition to the bill. John McCain and Jeff Flake both released statements on Twitter encouraging Brewer to veto the bill.
With so much opposition on both sides of the political spectrum, the question emerges concerning how such a controversial bill was passed to begin with. The answer involves the deep political divisions that define the state of Arizona. The bill itself was passed on a straight “party line” vote with all Republicans in favor of the bill and all Democrats opposed. It should be noted that if the three Republican legislators mentioned above changed their votes today, SB1062 would have failed.
Arizona often is the subject of attention because of controversial laws such as this and the aforementioned SB1070, but politics within the state itself are far more complicated. Arizona is not a “pure red” state as outside observers may be tempted to conclude. There are strong conservative elements within the state, concentrated in the suburbs of Phoenix, areas such as Glendale and Scottsdale, as well as in the southern parts of the state near the Mexican border. There are also very strong liberal elements within the state however, focused in areas such as Tucson, metropolitan Phoenix, and the Native American reservations. A common factor that somewhat unites both ideologies is an “independent streak.” Arizona tends to see itself as marching to the beat of its own drum, not in lockstep to any specific ideology.
Governor Brewer has five days to decide what to do with SB1062 and to this point has not given an indication of what her final action will be. She initially expressed sympathy with the goals of the authors of the bill, but as opposition continues to mount, it becomes increasingly difficult to predict what her decision will be. The controversy surrounding this gay law reveals what a deeply divided state Arizona can be.
Editorial by Christopher V. Spencer