Hoyer: Arizona anti-gay law 'ill-timed'

Legislation in Arizona empowering state businesses to refuse service to gays and lesbians is "totally unrelated to religious liberty," Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) charged Tuesday.

Supporters of the bill, which passed the state legislature last week, say it's necessary to ensure religious freedoms are protected.

But Hoyer, the Democratic whip, rejected that argument outright and called on Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to veto the measure.

"It's an ill-timed bill [and] I think it's totally unrelated to religious liberty, as its sponsors claim," Hoyer said during a press briefing in the Capitol. "I don't think anybody would claim that, under any kind of rational public accommodations policy, that if … I had a retail business, but I said that I didn't want women in my store, that anybody would say that's reasonable.

"We've clearly said that, if you don't want African-Americans in your store, that's not reasonable or rational," he added. "This is discriminatory, contrary to the values of the United States of America, and hopefully Gov. Brewer [vetoes it]."

Pressed on whether the restrictive proposal makes sense for institutions like Catholic adoption agencies, Hoyer didn't sway.

"If you're open to do business with the public, the public is the public," he said.

Passed by Arizona's Republican-led legislature last week, the right-to-refuse-service measure would empower businesses to deny customers based on "sincerely held" religious beliefs.

The proposal has incited a firestorm of controversy, with a number of business groups, human rights organizations and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle voicing their opposition.

Arizona GOP Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake have both urged Brewer to veto the bill, and even several of the state senators who voted "yes" last week have since changed their tune, calling Monday on Brewer to kill the measure because the negative attention is "causing our state immeasurable harm.”

Brewer has been in Washington for a conference of governors and is expected back in Arizona on Tuesday afternoon.

NBC News reported Brewer will veto the bill out of concern that it would harm the state's economy.

House Republicans have been much less vocal. Indeed, the offices of Arizona GOP Reps. Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, Matt Salmon and David Schweikert have all declined to comment this week.

— Jasmine Sachar contributed.