After Days Of Deliberation, Controversial Ariz. Bill Is Vetoed

A bill passed last week by Arizona lawmakers would have allowed business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians on the basis of religious beliefs. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill on Wednesday.

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In Arizona, a controversial bill involving gay rights and religious freedom will not become law. The measure would've allowed business owners to assert their religious beliefs and refuse service to gays and lesbians. Late today, Republican Governor Jan Brewer said she would not sign it.

GOVERNOR JAN BREWER: I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.

BLOCK: NPR's Ted Robbins joins me now from Tucson with more on this story. And Ted, it was just a week ago that Arizona's Republican-led legislature passed this bill. Opposition has been building ever since. Tell us about that.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Yeah. Less than. It's been remarkable. I mean, neither of the sponsors of the bill nor the religious conservative organizations behind it - at least based on what I've heard in the hearings in the legislature - they didn't expect this. As you said, the bill was to clarify the state's laws so that people could not sue businesses or churches who refuse to serve people on the basis of religious beliefs. And it was really intended for gay rights, so are people who just objected to homosexuality.

Then, so gay rights organizations obviously stepped up, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, business owners, now we're talking Apple, which is vying to locate here, American Airlines, Verizon, AT&T. The Super Bowl is scheduled to be in Arizona next year and the NFL, according to a source, today said it was exploring other options. The only actual cancellation was the Hispanic National Bar Association has already cancelled its convention in Phoenix. But you're talking the biggest of the events, you know, in this country. Now the news releases are expressing approval of the veto.

BLOCK: Yeah, and then in the end, even some of the state senators who voted for the bill changed their mind. Told the governor, don't sign it.

ROBBINS: That's right. Pretty extraordinary.

BLOCK: Well, Arizona isn't the only state to propose such a law. Ted, what's the reasoning behind this bill and other ones like it?

ROBBINS: Yeah. And we're going to see more, which is why this important. Georgia, soon. A number of states have decided not to push it this year. It's really a focus on the states. There are 17 states with religious freedom restoration acts. And here's what really started it, was in New Mexico last year, the supreme court there said that a photographer could not refuse to take photographs of a gay couple for their wedding. But in New Mexico, sexual orientation is a protected class, like race or gender. In Arizona, as in the federal government for that matter, it is not. So actually, no one could sue anyway. It's kind of remarkable.

BLOCK: Well, as you mentioned, a lot of businesses, a lot - threatening to boycott or not bring their business to Arizona. This is a situation Arizona has been in before, right?

ROBBINS: Yeah. 2010, we had SB1070, the anti-illegal immigration state law and boycotts there. Back in 1991, the state lost the Super Bowl because it refused to recognize Martin Luther King holiday. It does now. But you can see, I think, what you've got here is that the state and businesses especially have had enough.

BLOCK: OK. Ted, thanks so much.

ROBBINS: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Ted Robbins. We were talking about the veto of Arizona's bill that would've allowed business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians based on religious beliefs. Again, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed that bill.

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