An Arizona lawmaker introduced a bill that would sanction discrimination against gay people by Christian business owners.
Sponsored by Republic State Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R-Chandler), the bill is a revised version of an earlier measure that was vetoed last year, according to the Associated Press. It states that businesses can claim a legal right to decide to refuse services to certain people if doing so would “substantially burden” their freedom of religion.
Business owners could effectively protect themselves from civil rights suits by citing their religious beliefs.
Yarbrough has tried to downplay the possible effects of the bill—the concerns raised by civil rights and secular groups that businesses could justify anything with religious reasons, and that it gives religious rights precedence over minority rights—by saying that federal civil rights laws still apply. He says the bill seeks to clarify religious freedoms and protect business owners from suits, such as a New Mexico case in which a gay couple sued a wedding photographer for refusing to provide them with services.
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He used the example of a pharmacist refusing to sell contraceptives.
“If he’s the only pharmacy in Bisbee, you may have a problem,” Yarbrough said. But “if there are two more down the road and Target does this and there’s no issue, and he knows that you can go there.”
“And, of course, if he’s at all smart, is probably going to say, ‘And by the way, two blocks down the road is a Target and they have a pharmacy,’” he added.
Advocacy groups aren’t buying it.
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“Freedom means freedom for everyone, and it is wrong to treat someone differently because of who they are,” said Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona, a gay rights group.
The bill stands a good chance of being approved, having only been vetoed last year because the Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was unhappy with lawmakers’ refusal to consider her state budget, according to the East Valley Tribune. It will head to the Arizona Senate after a review by the Rules Committee.
Meanwhile the owners of the Oregon bakery Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which was reprimanded after refusing to serve a lesbian couple, stand by their right to deny customers based on their religious beliefs.
"We still stand by what we believe from the beginning," owner Aaron Klein told KATU.
"I'm not sure what future holds, but as far as where we’re at right now… it’s almost as if the state is hostile toward Christian businesses," Klein said.