‘License to Discriminate’ bills lose in Arizona, elsewhere

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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer

Terry Valdez was thinking about Jackie Robinson and Jan Brewer while she waited for the Padres and the Mariners to take the field for an early spring training game in Peoria, Ariz., on Feb. 27.

The day before, Arizona’s Republican governor vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed individuals, businesses and organizations to cite religious beliefs as a defense in any action brought by a business or individual claiming discrimination. Proponents called SB1062 a bill to protect religious freedoms; opponents said it was a license to discriminate.

The legislation had moved quickly through the Arizona Legislature even as the push for similar bills sputtered and died in several other states where right-wing lawmakers are working to hold back marriage equality.

“Turning people away because they are black or Latino or gay or Jewish or female, that’s just wrong,” said Valdez, who plans to marry her girlfriend in New Mexico in early 2015. “It is just backward that the law would allow people to be turned away from a restaurant or a bakery or some place because of sexual orientation or anything else.”

She shared her opposition to SB1062 on Twitter, along with thousands of others who were concerned that the governor, with her failing record on civil rights, might sign the bill into law.

The Democratic Party and civil rights groups — including the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Human Rights Campaign — led the opposition to the bill.

Cyber activists launched petition drives, and the week- end after the bill was sent to the governor more than a dozen petitions were circulating on Change.org.

Businesses joined the chorus of SB1062 opponents, including Apple, American Airlines, Delta, Marriott Hotels, Yelp, as well as the National Football League and Major League Baseball.

In its statement, MLB said, “As the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 Clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance. Those values are fundamental to our game’s diverse play- ers, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins.

“MLB has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation, as reflected by our collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players Association. Accordingly, MLB will neither support nor tolerate any words, attitudes or actions that imperil the inclusive communities that we have strived to foster within our game.”

As Brewer began a series of private meetings on the issue, leaders in her party also were speaking out. Mitt Romney urged a veto, as did U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

The governor announced her veto in a news conference at the state Capitol on Feb. 26.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” the governor said. “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.”

She went on to chastise Republican lawmakers for making SB1062 a priority instead of dealing with economic issues and an overhaul of the child welfare system in the state.

Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, co-director of the LGBT activist group GetEQUAL, said, “We cannot forget the suffering that some of her other decisions have caused to immigrants,” but on SB1062, Brewer “stood on the right of history.”

HRC president Chad Griffin said the governor “spared her state from institutional discrimination and economic catastrophe.”

The Log Cabin Republicans, a partisan LGBT group, called the veto a “watershed event.”

But Brewer’s veto was not welcomed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a right-wing group that helped write the bill. CAP president Cathi Herrod said, “The attacks on SB1062 represent precisely why so many people are sick of the modern political debate. Instead of having an honest discussion about the true meaning of religious liberty, opponents of the bill have hijacked this discussion through lies, personal attacks and irresponsible reporting.”

Similar measures have been proposed in Ohio, Maine, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and and Oklahoma. The campaigns seem to have stalled in every state but Mississippi.

Welcoming Brewer’s veto, Eunice Rho of the American Civil Liberties Union said, “We strongly support the right of every person to exercise their religious beliefs, but religious freedom doesn’t give any of us the right to harm others. The massive public opposition to this, as well as several other failed bills across the country, shows that Americans of all political persuasions and religions feel the same way.