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Saturday, December 10, 2016

By Cindy Carcamo, Los Angeles Times

TUCSON, Ariz. — In a victory hailed by gay rights advocates, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have bolstered a business owner’s right to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion.

The veto, delivered the same day a federal judge struck down a law against same-sex marriage in Texas, came amid an intense national outcry by the gay community, its supporters, business owners and Arizona political leaders.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said in televised remarks from Phoenix. “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”

She said she worried that the bill had “the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.” Cheers from the bill’s opponents, who had gathered outside the Capitol, could be heard as Brewer finished her statement.

Critics had described the bill as anti-gay, unconstitutional and divisive — and potentially harmful to Arizona’s economy and reputation.

Brewer also said the bill’s wording was “too broad.” She echoed concerns from constitutional scholars who had said the law could affect not just gays but others. Would the bill allow, they asked, a merchant to deny service to someone of another religion? Could a merchant cite their religious beliefs and decline to serve an unwed mother?

Proponents of SB 1062 say the bill was misrepresented. They argued that it was not discriminatory but intended to protect religious freedom.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative group that helped craft the bill, called Wednesday “a sad day.”

“SB 1062 passed the Legislature for one reason only: to guarantee that all Arizonans would be free to live and work according to their faith,” Cathi Herrod, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits. Essentially, they succeeded in getting a veto of a bill that does not even exist.”

The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature last week, was met with immediate and widespread criticism, prompting three Republicans who voted for the measure to reverse course and join a chorus of people calling for a veto.

The Arizona House Republican Caucus released a statement after the veto, saying it respected Brewer’s decision, “especially in light of the concerns brought up over the past week.”

Some foes of the legislation threatened to boycott Arizona if the bill became law, much as some groups boycotted the state after the passage of a tough anti-illegal immigration law in 2010.