PHOENIX (CNS) — Concerns about the need to protect religious liberty are not unfounded but a bill allowing businesses and others to refuse to serve same-sex couples on religious grounds was “broadly worded and could result in unintended consequences” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Feb. 26.
She vetoed the measure, known as S.B. 1062, saying that it sought to protect businesses, “yet the business community overwhelmingly opposes the proposed law,” she said.
Before making the decision to veto the bill, Brewer met with both supporters of the bill and its opponents. She also acknowledged that some state lawmakers who originally backed it changed their position.
“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. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes,” she said in a statement.
But she said S.B. 1062 “has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is nondiscrimination.”
The measure would have amended Arizona’s version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, providing that “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.”
Opponents of the bill said it was unconstitutional because it would have allowed outright discrimination of gays and lesbians and they argued it also could have been used to justify discrimination against people on the basis of race.
The bill’s intent was protection of religious liberty, not discrimination, said its supporters, who included the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops.
“The threats to religious liberty have become very real in recent years and are increasing,” the conference said in a Feb. 20 statement. “Due to these threats, it is important that Arizona’s RFRA statute be clarified to make sure that the religious liberty of individuals and businesses remain protected.”
Sponsors of the measure said it was necessary to avoid in Arizona what has happened in other states, like New Mexico, where the state Supreme Court ruled that a photographer was guilty of discrimination for refusing on religious grounds to provide photo services for a same-sex couple for their civil commitment ceremony.
Brewer was critical of the bill’s advocates for citing examples outside the state, however “concerning,” and noted the measure did not seek redress for any current concerns related to Arizona businesses.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization that advocates for the religious liberty, criticized her veto decision.
“Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed. Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona,” it said in a statement. “Even though the battle has become more difficult, Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend any Arizonan who suffers the indignity of religious discrimination.”
A group of evangelicals issued a statement praising the governor for her veto.
“We are saddened to see our brothers and sisters in Christ leveraging their faith to support an Arizona law that would allow business owners to discriminate against the gay community and many others on the basis of religion,” it said. “We believe that Christians should oppose this law and others like it in Kansas, Georgia and Florida.”
Signatories include the Rev. Ted Haggard, pastor of St. James Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., and former president of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Amy Butler, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Washington; and the Rev. Lillian Daniel, senior minister at First Congregational Church in Glen Ellyn, Ill.