Arizona governor weighs fate of bill critics call anti-gay

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 26, 2014 2:03 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, under mounting pressure to veto a bill described by critics as a license to discriminate against gays in the name of religion, was due to meet with political groups on both sides of the issue on Wednesday as she weighs a decision.

Brewer, a Republican, has yet to say if she will sign or veto the bill, which would allow business owners to cite their personal religious beliefs as legal justification for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customers.

"I assure you, as always, I will do the right thing for the State of Arizona," Brewer tweeted late on Tuesday in reference to the bill, although she did not elaborate.

The measure passed the Republican-controlled state legislature last week, putting Brewer at the center 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.

Brewer became a lightning rod of controversy early in her tenure for her support of tough measures to clamp down on illegal immigration.

The political right has hailed the newly passed Arizona bill as a necessary defense of religious freedom while the left denounces it as a form of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Brewer has until Saturday to veto or sign the bill. If she takes no action, the measure will automatically take effect 91 days after the end of the current legislative session.

Under the measure, a business would be 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.

Andrew Wilder, a Brewer spokesman, said the governor plans a series of meetings with people on both sides of the issue throughout the day to aid in her deliberations.

She has come under substantial pressure to veto the bill, at the urging of at least two close outside advisers and the two U.S. Senators from Arizona, both Republicans.

Three Republican state senators who cast deciding votes on the issue have since backtracked and recommend a veto, and large U.S. corporations such as Apple Inc and American Airlines have similarly weighed in.

Supporters such as the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, which helped write the proposal, say it actually aims at protecting the religious rights of all.

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

Seventeen U.S. states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. 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 gay or lesbian couples from marrying.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)