Los Angeles (AFP) – Arizona Governor Jan Brewer will probably veto a controversial bill which would let businesses refuse to serve gays and lesbians for religious reasons, reports suggested Tuesday.
The bill, passed by lawmakers in the Republican-run southwest U.S. state last week, triggered anger from gay rights groups who said Arizona was “on the wrong side of history.”
Brewer, is known for her hardline conservative positions, but may only decide this week whether to sign it into law.
Arizona is home to the Grand Canyon and tourism, a mainstay of the local economy, could be hit by the bill it it went into force.
“It’s been her proclivity in the past to focus on the priorities she wants to accomplish, and this was clearly not part of her agenda,” long-term Brewer political adviser Chuck Coughlin told NBC News.
He told CNN that Brewer, on her way back from a Washington conference Tuesday, will likely decide Thursday or Friday.
“She will meet with supporters …to hear their cause, people who have expressed their views in opposition,” he said.
But he noted that Brewer vetoed a “nearly identical bill” last year and added: “All of those reasons why she vetoed it last year are relevant today.”
Gay rights campaigners and opposition Arizona lawmakers condemned last week’s decision to pass the bill.
“The world is upset with how Russia has treated gay rights… I think it’s time for that same anger to be directed towards Arizona,” said Chad Campbell, House minority leader.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recalled that Arizona is already known for a hardline stance on immigrants, including passing a controversial 2010 law most of which was struck down by the Supreme Court two years later.
“Once again Arizona’s legislature is on the wrong side of history,” said a statement from ACLU’s Arizona branch.
“Four years ago, after the passage of SB 1070, we were ridiculed for legalizing discrimination against brown people. The targets today are gay and lesbian Arizonans.
“They own homes, run businesses and pay taxes just like everyone else but under the guise of religious freedom they are now being vilified by Arizona lawmakers.”
Supporters of the bill said it would protect the religious freedom of business owners.
“As we witness hostility towards people of faith grow like never before, we must take this opportunity to speak up for religious liberty,” said the Center for Arizona Policy pressure group.
“The great news is that SB 1062 protects your right to live and work according to your faith,” it added.
But the ACLU said: “This bill is not about God or faith. There are already laws on the books in Arizona protecting religious freedom.
“What (the) bill does is allow private individuals and businesses to use religion to discriminate, sending a message that Arizona is intolerant and unwelcoming.”
Brewer aide Coughlin said he would not guess what Brewer will decide.
But speaking personally he added: “It’s much too broad, and it could be construed in very unusual or different ways and cause havoc on the system here in the state.”
AFP Photo/Krista Kennell