PHOENIX – Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a Republican bill that set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.
Her decision defused a national furor over gay rights and religious freedom.
“My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona,” Brewer said at a news conference. “I call them like I see them despite the tears or the boos from the crowd.”
The governor said she gave the legislation careful deliberation in talking to her lawyers, citizens and lawmakers on both sides of the debate.
The bill backed by Republicans in the Legislature was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.
The bill thrust Arizona into the national spotlight last week after both chambers of the state legislature approved it. As the days passed, more and more groups, politicians and average citizens weighed in against Senate Bill 1062. Many took to social media to criticize the bill, calling it an attack on gay and lesbian rights.
Prominent Phoenix business groups said it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration-crackdown law, SB1070, and warned that businesses looking to expand into the state may not do so if the bill became law.
Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation.
Brewer was under intense pressure to veto the bill, including from three Republicans who had voted for the bill last week. They said in a letter to Brewer that while the intent of their vote “was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance.”
SB 1062 would allow people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination.
Backers cited a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn’t exist in Arizona.
Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough called his proposal a First Amendment issue during a Senate debate.
“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 said it was a veiled attempt to legally discriminate against gay people. “The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and lesbians,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.