Last Thursday, the Arizona House of Representatives passed its version of a state senate bill that many are calling the “Turn Away The Gays” bill. If signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, Arizona may well have taken a huge step away from those states that have struck down laws and constitutional provisions inhibiting LGBT equality. This bill might be seen as a reaction by state conservatives to a national trend towards marriage equality for LGBT couples. This has been felt particularly close to home for Arizonans, since state and national courts have recently overturned bans on same-sex marriage in neighboring California and New Mexico.
The language of the bill is generally vague, stating that:
B. …STATE ACTION shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.
C. Government STATE ACTION may substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion only if it THE OPPOSING PARTY demonstrates that application of the burden to the person PERSON’S EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN THIS PARTICULAR INSTANCE is both:
1. In furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.
2. The least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
Despite this broad language, many Arizonans critical of the bill believe that it is designed to permit business owners to refuse services to LGBT persons. While the bill is designed to enhance the religious freedom of all persons, it defines “persons” as including all forms of business associations. The executive director for the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties has described the bill as “unnecessary and discriminatory,” and that it’s taint of anti-LGBT sentiment would ultimately harm the state economy.
Taken at its broadest interpretation, the bill’s vague language presents other problems as well. Sen. Ana Tovar, a Democratic leader in the state senate, believes that the law could open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.” If Gov. Brewer signs the bill next week, then it may indeed open the door to a broad range of sanctioned discrimination by businesspersons – or at least what they perceive to be sanctioned discrimination. At least some Arizona businesspeople have registered their disapproval of the bill, sometimes in rather blunt and humorous ways: the owner of a Tucson pizzeria posted a sign on door reading “We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service to Arizona Legislators.”
(Sources for this article can be found at the hyperlinked text within.)