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Updated Feb 21, 2014 - 9:16 pm

Opponents of Arizona bill targeting gays protest at capitol

PHOENIX — An estimated 250 people who gathered at the Arizona Capitol
demanded Gov. Jan Brewer veto legislation that would allow business owners to
refuse to serve gays
by citing their religious beliefs.

Friday afternoon’s protests come a day after the House passed a bill pushed by
conservative Republicans that adds protections from discrimination lawsuits to
individuals and businesses.

The Senate passed the same bill on Wednesday. Gov. Jan Brewer must sign or veto
Senate Bill 1062 by the end of next week.

Protesters held signs that read “No religion should be for discrimination”
and “What about ‘love thy neighbor’?” They repeatedly chanted “veto this
bill.”

Republicans say the law is needed to protect people who have legitimate
religious objections to gay marriage. Democrats argue it will be a license to
discriminate.

Jesus Castro-Byrd, who attended the protest with his husband, said the bill was
going to hurt Arizona’s economy and reputation. Like many others, he said
Arizona already suffered too many consequences when it passed immigration
crack-down law Senate Bill 1070.

“We have to voice our rights and stand up for what we believe,” he said.

Cheri White said she jumped in the car with her daughter and two grandchildren
when she learned of the protest. The family drove from Cornville, Ariz., near
Sedona, to attend.

White said the bill was discriminatory and that she didn’t want her
grandchildren to grow up with it.

“We want them to be able to be free and happy,” she said.

Social conservatives and libertarian-minded members of the GOP believe the
legislation protects the First Amendment rights of business owners who are
expressing their religious beliefs.

The new legislation was passed over the shrill objections of Democrats who said
it was clearly designed to allow discrimination against gays. All but three
Republicans in the Legislature voted in favor of the bill.

In Tucson, more than 200 people listened to protest speeches Friday afternoon
and then marched to Brewer’s local office in the state office building.

The rally and march was organized by Wingspan, southern Arizona’s nonprofit
lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center.

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