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Pressure mounts over Arizona bill that could deny service to gays

Associated Press

PHOENIX: Republican Gov. Jan Brewer faced intensifying pressure Monday from CEOs, politicians in Washington and state lawmakers in her own party to veto a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians.

Senate Bill 1062 has set off a political firestorm since the Arizona Legislature passed it last week, with critics denouncing the measure as blatantly discriminatory and embarrassing to the state.

The chorus of opposition has grown each day, and on Monday, three state senators who voted in favor of the bill changed course and said they oppose it.

U.S. Sen. John McCain asked Brewer to veto the measure, as did Apple Inc. and the CEO of American Airlines Group Inc.

State Sens. Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs and Steve Pierce sent their letter urging a veto just days after they joined the entire 17-member Senate GOP caucus in voting for the bill.

“I think laws are [already] on the books that we need, and have now seen the ramifications of my vote,” Worsley said. “I feel very bad, and it was a mistake.”

With the three GOP senators joining all 13 Senate Democrats in opposition, there would be enough votes to defeat the measure in a re-vote. But too much time has passed to allow for reconsideration, and the bill was sent to Brewer in a routine transmittal Monday that was accompanied by “boos” from Senate Democrats.

Brewer now has five working days to sign or veto the bill. The governor doesn’t comment on pending legislation, but she vetoed a similar measure last year. That action, however, came during an unrelated political standoff, and it’s unclear whether she would support or reject this plan.

The bill is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.

With the business community lining up against the latest proposal, Brewer could have cover for a veto. She’s worked hard to return Arizona’s economy to pre-recession levels with business-friendly incentives and tax cuts.

The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.

Opponents call it a license to discriminate against gays.

Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed. The efforts are stalled in Idaho, Ohio and Kansas.



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