By Mike Lillis
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) on Wednesday vetoed legislation empowering businesses to discriminate openly against gays and lesbians based on religious beliefs.
The bill, which passed the Republican-led state legislature last week, was hailed by many Republicans and conservative groups as a necessary step to protect religious freedoms.
Faced with the outcry, Brewer killed the proposal, citing her concern for the business interests of the state.
“The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences,” Brewer said in a letter explaining her decision. “The legislation seeks to protect businesses, yet the business community overwhelmingly opposes the proposed law.”
Pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), a conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage, the bill would allow Arizona businesses and individuals to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers based on "sincerely held" religious beliefs.
But the protests were immediate. Some called on the National Football League to pull the Super Bowl from Glendale, where it's scheduled to be held in 2015. Others urged a boycott of the entire state. Apple Inc. has urged a veto, and over the weekend, a Tucson pizzeria posted a warning to the lawmakers who backed the bill: "We reserve the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators."
CAP President Cathi Herrod said the critics had distorted what the bill would do, and she characterized the veto as marking "a sad day for Arizonans who cherish and understand religious liberty."
"SB 1062 passed the legislature for one reason only: to guarantee that all Arizonans would be free to live and work according to their faith," Herrod said in a statement. "Opponents were desperate to distort this bill rather than debate the merits. Essentially, they succeeded in getting a veto of a bill that does not even exist."
Brewer saw things differently.
In a press conference on Wednesday, she said that the bill could “create more problems than it purports to solve.”
“To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before,” she said, but added, “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.”
Gay rights group GLAAD hailed the veto choice.
“Governor Brewer today demonstrated that basic respect for LGBT people extends across party lines, and anti-LGBT bias isn't just bad politics, it's bad for business,” said the organization’s president and chief executive, Sarah Kate Ellis, in a statement.
“As other states consider similar laws that aim only to make LGBT people's lives more difficult, legislators would do well to remember that anti-LGBT laws just won't be tolerated,” she said.
After the news conference, Brewer tweeted a photo of herself vetoing the bill.
It remains unclear if the GOP sponsors of the bill will abandon their push or try to tweak the language in hopes of passing it again.
— This story was last updated at 9:20 p.m.