Arizona Under Fire Over Gay Discrimination Bill

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Arizona is finding itself awash in negative attention this week after the state legislature passed a measure that grants business owners the right to cite religious liberty in refusing to serve gay customers.

Protesters marched through downtown Tucson, Arizona over the weekend in part of a larger effort to stop Arizona Governor Jan Brewer from signing the bill into law. She is expected to make a decision by the end of the week.

Already, three Republican state senators who originally voted for the bill have publicly rescinded their votes asking Governor Brewer to veto it.

And even some religious leaders are now speaking out.

“I think using religion to extend bigotry doesn't speak well for religion," said Arizona pastor Scott Opsahl. "So I think they are using religion to advance their own political ends.”

Small business owners are also concerned that the bill will drive away potential customers if it becomes law. One of them is Angela Saban, a wedding planner and cake designer from Glendale, Arizona.

"If this bill passes, I can see this being a huge problem," says Saban. "Arizona is a destination wedding site. Ninety percent of the weddings that I do are destination weddings."

Saban says that if this bill passes it is likely some of her customer base will drop off because couples—both gay and straight—may view Arizona as a place of intolerance and choose another location for their wedding. She adds that members of her community and other small business owners in Arizona are against the bill, which is formally known as SB1062. 

"There are a few people out here who are not against it and feel that they deserve the right to voice their opinion regarding their religious beliefs and if they're against gay marriage, they should be able to turn gay customers away for that reason," she says.

Saban says that the bill seems counter-intuitive because in some Arizona cities there are laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, which sends mixed messages to businesses and communities. 

"It looks like we're all fearful of the gay community or anyone who doesn't have the same religious belief that we have," she says. "If they can tell me as an employer in hiring employees that I cannot discriminate—and that law was passed last year in the city of Phoenix—that I cannot discriminate against a gay person, that I have to, if they are just as capable as doing a job as anyone else, that I have to hire them or I can't fire them because they're gay, then why would they give me the right to turn down a customer because they're gay? It makes no sense to me."

Update: After intense pressure, Gov. Brewer announced late Wednesday night that she would veto SB1062. In a televised address from Phoenix, Gov. Brewer said the bill was worded too broadly and could result in "unintended and negative consequences" for the state.