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Americas

Arizona governor vetoes controversial anti-gay rights bill

© Photo: AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-27

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (pictured) vetoed a bill on Wednesday that has been slammed as a license to discriminate against gay people in the name of religion, saying the controversial measure could “create more problems than it purports to solve”.

The measure, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature last week, would have allowed business owners to cite their religious beliefs as legal grounds for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customer.

Brewer had come under mounting pressure to veto the measure, dubbed Senate Bill 1062.

Companies including Apple Inc. and American Airlines and even national Republicans including Senator John McCain had urged her to veto the bill, saying it would hurt the state and could alienate businesses looking to expand there.

“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said in a brief statement from her office in announcing her decision, to cheers from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) activists rallying outside the capitol.

“I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated,” she said, going on to critique the bill as a broadly worded proposal that “could result in unintended and negative consequences”.

The governor’s office said it had received more than 40,000 calls and emails on the legislation, with most of them urging a veto.

Texas ruling

Brewer’s rejection of the bill coincided with another high-profile victory on Wednesday for LGBT rights activists, who won a federal court decision in Texas striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, although it was immediately stayed pending appeal.

Conservatives are wrestling with how to respond to the growing legality of gay marriage in the US.

“This ruling is the poster child of the culture war occurring in America today,” said Todd Staples, a candidate for Texas lieutenant governor who drafted the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

In a nod to conservative supporters of the Arizona bill who have expressed concerns over how such court rulings could encroach on the religious convictions of those opposed to gay marriage, Brewer said, “I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before”.

But in her formal veto message transmitted by letter to the president of Arizona’s Senate, Brewer also pointed to broad opposition the bill faced from the very business community that supporters said the measure was designed to protect.

Sport backing

Her veto announcement came hours after Major League Baseball and the National Football League joined a growing chorus of business organisations denouncing or expressing strong reservations about the legislation.

Echoing calls for Arizona boycotts previously stirred by Brewer’s support for tough measures to clamp down on illegal immigration, the Hispanic National Bar Association said on Wednesday its board had voted unanimously to pull its annual convention from Phoenix (capital of Arizona) in light of last week’s passage of 1062.

The measure gained final approval from the Republican-controlled state legislature last Thursday, putting Brewer at the centre of a contentious political debate at a time when she has sought to ease partisan discord while focusing on efforts to revive Arizona’s economy.

Many in the political right hailed the bill as a necessary defence of religious freedom while the left denounced it as a form of state-sanctioned discrimination.

‘Hostility toward religion’

Polls show growing public support for marriage rights in the US overall, but in Texas and Arizona there remains a strong social movement against marriage equality.

“Texans spoke loud and clear by overwhelmingly voting to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in our constitution, and it is not the role of the federal government to overturn the will of our citizens,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday.

The Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful social conservative group that backs conservative Christian legislation and is opposed to gay marriage, argues the law is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts and simply clarifies existing state law.

“We see a growing hostility toward religion,” said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for the group.

Under the measure, an Arizona business would have been immune to a discrimination lawsuit if a decision to deny service was motivated by “sincerely held” religious beliefs and if providing service would burden exercising of those beliefs. But many critics, some from her own party, have said the bill undermined Arizona’s image and would damage its economy.

The measure surfaced following a string of federal court victories by gay rights activists seeking to strike down restrictions on same-sex marriage in several states, including New Mexico, Utah, Kentucky, Virginia and, now, Texas.

Seventeen US states along with the District of Columbia recognise gay marriage in a trend that has gained momentum since the US Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.

Arizona is among more than 30 states that still ban same-sex couples from marrying in the US.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

Date created : 2014-02-27

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