Once again, Arizona is on the brink of taking a giant leap backward. This time it’s picking the wrong side in the fight for LGBT equality.
Both chambers of the Arizona Legislature recently passed a bill that would legalize discrimination against gays and lesbians on the basis of religion. Painted as a law to protect religious freedom, SB 1062 redefined “exercise of religion” and dramatically expanded the definition of a “person” to include “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.”
If Governor Jan Brewer signs this new bill into law, it would allow people and businesses with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to refuse to provide services or employment to anyone whose lifestyle is an affront to their religious beliefs.
The Arizona House passed the legislation after more than three hours of debate about religious freedom, discrimination, equality, and the measure’s potential negative economic impact. Repeatedly, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, who introduced the House version of SB1062, defended the bill from attacks by Democrats, particularly Minority Leader Chad Campbell. A number of times, Farnsworth reminded the House that gays and Lesbians are not a protected class-- implying that that fact made discrimination OK. Farnsworth, Rep. John Kavanagh, and Rep. Steve Montenegro were the bill's strongest supporters, insisting that the intention of the bill to “protect” the religious people and businesses from being exposed to lifestyles that are against their religion. The vote fell largely along party lines. Every Democrat in the two chambers voted against it, joined by a total of three Republicans. (LD9 Rep. Ethan Orr, who has strong ties with the Chamber of Commerce, was one of the three Republicans who voted "no".)