The controversial anti-gay Arizona bill (SB1062) that Gov. Jan Brewer is being encouraged to veto amends the state's "Religious Freedom Restoration Act." That law has always protected a church or religious institution, allowing it--in a certain sense--to discriminate: a temple, for instance, can decide which rabbi to hire on the basis of religious preference. But the law as amended will allow any individual, business or corporation to discriminate indiscriminately. The key passage changes the scope of the current law by eliminating the exception for "a religious assembly or institution" and replacing it with "ANY INDIVIDUAL, ASSOCIATION, PARTNERSHIP, CORPORATION, CHURCH, RELIGIOUS ASSEMBLY OR INSTITUTION, ESTATE, TRUST, FOUNDATION OR OTHER LEGAL ENTITY."
Most states allow some discrimination already. "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" signs, for instance, allow businesses to discriminate against the shirtless and the barefoot. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, however, prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and other categories--but not sexual orientation. Some states have added protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but Arizona has not, making this law essentially superfluous: gays and lesbians are not protected by the laws of the state anyway. Certain cities, however, such as Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tucson, have municipal ordinances offering such protection. SB 1062 is an attempt to override those ordinances. New Mexico does have a state law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and there in 2006 a photography studio (Elane Photography) refused to photograph a lesbian couple's commitment ceremony. The couple sued and won. Arizona is trying to head off a similar situation with this bill, even though a couple in a similar position in Arizona would already be unlikely to win its case. The bill essentially allows certain people to be designated as second-class citizens who can be refused service. This state-sanctioned bullying may backfire. Arizona's Republican Senators McCain and Flake have asked Governor Brewer to veto the bill, as have the Greater Phoenix Economic Council and three of the state senators who originally voted against it. Hotels and golf courses are already asking Governor Brewer to veto SB 1062 because they're losing spring training visitors. When Arizona held out against Martin Luther King's birthday being declared a national holiday, the NFL moved the Super Bowl from Phoenix to Pasadena. Now, the Arizona Cardinals and the state's Super Bowl Host Committee are worried history will repeat itself. // Ned Stuckey-French
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