Pressure mounts over Arizona bill opposed by gays

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 24, 2014 at 7:49 pm •  Published: February 24, 2014
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PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Gov. Jan Brewer faced intensifying pressure Monday from CEOs, politicians in Washington and state lawmakers in her own party to veto a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians.

Senate Bill 1062 has set off a political firestorm since the Arizona Legislature passed it last week, with critics denouncing the measure as blatantly discriminatory and embarrassing to the state.

The chorus of opposition has grown each day, and on Monday, three state senators who voted in favor of the bill changed course and said they oppose it. U.S. Sen. John McCain asked Brewer to veto the measure, as did Apple Inc. and the CEO of American Airlines Group Inc.

State Sens. Bob Worsley, Adam Driggs and Steve Pierce sent their letter urging a veto just days after they joined the entire 17-member Senate GOP caucus in voting for the bill.

"I think laws are (already) on the books that we need, and have now seen the ramifications of my vote," Worsley told The Associated Press. "I feel very bad, and it was a mistake."

With the three GOP senators joining all 13 Senate Democrats in opposition, there would be enough votes to defeat the measure in a re-vote. But too much time has passed to allow for reconsideration, and the bill was sent to Brewer in a routine transmittal Monday that was accompanied by "boos" from Senate Democrats.

Brewer now has five working days to sign or veto the bill. She returns from governors association meetings in Washington on Tuesday afternoon.

The governor doesn't comment on pending legislation, but she vetoed a similar measure last year. That action, however, came during an unrelated political standoff, and it's unclear whether she would support or reject this plan.

An estimated 350 people gathered outside the Arizona Capitol on Monday evening in a peaceful protest. They listened to speeches and many held homemade signs in opposition to the bill.

The bill is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.

CAP President Cathi Herrod is urging Brewer to sign the legislation and deriding what she called "fear-mongering" from its opponents.

"The attacks on SB 1062 ... represent precisely why so many people are sick of the modern political debate," Herrod wrote in a weekend posting on the group's website. "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.

"Our elected leaders have a fundamental duty to protect the religious freedom of every Arizonan, and that's what SB 1062 is all about."

If SB1062 is vetoed, it will be a major defeat for Herrod's group, which is seen as a powerful force on the Arizona political scene. Herrod suffered a similar loss last year when she tried to get the Legislature to include anti-abortion language in a Medicaid expansion bill that Brewer was pushing. That effort angered Brewer, herself a strong opponent of abortion.

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