State Capitol News
8:34 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Religious Freedom Bill Riles Gay Rights Supporters and Goes to Governor

Gov. Jan Brewer is going to get the last word on whether business owners can cite their religion as a reason to turn away gays — and maybe others. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer explains.

Gov. Jan Brewer
Gov. Jan Brewer
Credit Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer

Existing law already says people can use their sincerely held religious beliefs to avoid complying with some government regulations. Only if the government has a compelling interest do those religious beliefs come second. This measure permits business owners to use those beliefs as a shield against civil lawsuits charging discrimination. Rep. Ruben Gallego said lawmakers need to recognize what they’re doing.

“We are basically saying that it is open season, that it is OK to discriminate against our LGBT citizens in Arizona. It’s going to be OK for somebody in this state to put this sign up that says 'no gays allowed,’” Gallego said.

Supporters of the measure did not deny it would allow business owners to turn away gays. But Rep. Steve Montenegro said it comes down to a matter of religious freedom.

“What this bill is simply trying to bring forward is that you should not have to forfeit religious freedoms and rights merely because you want to work or start a business in the state of Arizona,” Montenegro said.

The legislation, which passed the Senate a day earlier, gained House approval late Thursday with only three Republicans siding with the Democrats in opposition. An aide to the governor would not comment on whether she intends to sign the measure.