Arizona's religious freedom bill riles gay rights supporters

By Bob Christie

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 21 2014 9:02 p.m. MST

"This bill is not about allowing discrimination," Yarbrough said. "This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."

Democrats say it is an outright attack on the rights of gays and lesbians that will reverberate through the economy because businesses and tourists will avoid Arizona like they did after the passage SB1070 in 2010 that cracked down on immigration.

"This bill is about going after the rights of the LGBT community in Arizona," said Rep. Chad Campbell, the Democratic minority leader. "This is going to be horrible for our economy."

But Republicans said it was simply an added protection for the faithful in the state who disapprove of gay marriage and want to be able to reject participating.

"Please, I will accept you because you are a child of God, I love you because you are a child of God," said GOP Rep. Steve Montenegro. "But please don't ask me to go against my religious beliefs."

The bill is similar to a proposal last year brought by Yarbrough but vetoed by Brewer. That legislation also would have allowed people or religious groups to sue if they believed they might be subject to a government regulation that infringed on their religious rights. Yarbrough stripped a provision from the bill in hopes Brewer will embrace the new version.

Civil liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy had sought to minimize concerns that last year's bill had far-reaching and hidden implications. During the Senate debate Wednesday, Democrats said the bill could allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

Yarbrough called those worries "unrealistic and unsupported hypotheticals" and said criminal laws will continue to be prosecuted by the courts.

Rep. Chad Campbell of Phoenix, the Democratic minority leader, said during debate that gays and lesbians across the country would get the message that they're not welcome in Arizona.

"We're telling them, 'We don't like you. We don't want you here. We're not going to protect you," he said.

But the House sponsor, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, said the bill had been blown out of proportion.

"We're making some tweaks here because of what's been going on in other states where people have been punished for their beliefs," Farnsworth said.

Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, also said the Democrats were making too much of the bill's effect.

"Sometimes people's rhetoric tends to inflame instead of explain," Biggs said. "And I would suggest if there is going to be a backlash because of 1062 ... it will because of the intemperate and inaccurate rhetoric."

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