Dubbed the “exercise of religion; state action,” Senate Bill 1062 was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate Wednesday and the Republican-fronted House Thursday. The bill supports a business owner’s right to refuse service to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.
The Senate vote was straight down the middle at 17-13. Two Republicans switched sides in the House, but it still managed to pass by a margin of 33-27. All Democrats stood in opposition to the bill.
Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough, of Chandler, had lobbied hard to pass the religious freedom bill. He said this week the measure would not expand what people can claim a religious exemption for, or alter the legal test that courts will use in religious freedom cases. He said the bill was not aimed at undermining a recent ordinance by the city of Phoenix that expanded protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“It does not grant any new substantive rights,” he said of the bill.
Civil-liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy had sought to downplay the bill’s far-reaching implications. They said the bill would allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.
The Senate Democratic Caucus released the following statements after Friday’s passage of SB 1062:
“SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar. “This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.
“Legislation of this kind has been attempted this year in Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Idaho. Each of those attempts failed after prominent members of the business community spoke against the measures. While our state continues to recover from the public relations nightmare of SB 1070, the Republican supporters of this bill are willing to elicit the inevitable backlash and boycotts that will result from its passage.
“Arizona does not need this bill, Arizonans do not want this bill and there is no place for this bill in our modern society. We have come too far to turn back the clock with such a disgraceful assault on members of our community based on their sexual orientation.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued its own statement on January 16, 2014:
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is deeply disappointed by the State Senate Committee on Government and Education’s passage today of a so-called religious freedom bill – SB 1062. In testimony before the Committee, ADL vigorously opposed the bill warning that it would jeopardize the welfare of Arizonians by disturbing the State’s delicate balance of religious freedom and the rights of others.
“Arizona already provides it citizens, houses of worship and other religious institutions with some of the nation’s strongest religious freedom protections from government intrusions and burdens,” said Tracey Stewart, ADL Arizona Assistant Regional Director. “A for-profit corporation or business could trample on the rights of others by claiming that a legal requirement is religiously offensive. Because of these serious issues, the Senate Rules Committee should not allow a full Senate vote on this unwise legislation,” said Stewart.
“The world is upset with how Russia has treated gay rights,” Chad Campbell, the Democratic minority leader in the state House tweeted Thursday night. “I think it’s time for that same anger to be directed towards AZ.”