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Updated Feb 19, 2014 - 4:27 pm

Senate OKs bill boosting right to refuse service

PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate on Wednesday passed a bill backed by
Republicans that expands the rights of people to assert their religious beliefs
in refusing service to gays and others, a measure Democrats say will open the
doors for discrimination and hurt the state economy.

Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the bill that was pushed by social
conservatives, saying it would allow discriminatory actions by businesses.

But sponsor Sen. Steve Yarbrough of Chandler said his push for Senate Bill 1062
was prompted by a New Mexico case in which the state Supreme Court allowed a gay
couple to sue a photographer who refused to take pictures of their wedding. He
says he’s protecting religious rights.

“This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” Yarbrough said during a
debate that stretched for nearly two hours. “This bill is about preventing
discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

The bill passed on a 17-13 party-line vote.

Democrats sponsored eight hostile amendments in an effort to sidetrack the
legislation, but they were steadily rejected by Republicans who control the

Democrats repeatedly said they believed Yarbrough’s legislation was clearly
designed to allow discrimination.

“The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and
lesbians,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. “You can’t argue the fact that
bill will invite discrimination. That’s the point of this bill. It is.”

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, warned of economic consequences if the Legislature
passed the bill and it is signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. He said
companies would begin to avoid Arizona, as they did after the state passed its
signature immigration crackdown law, SB1070, in 2010.

“I think this bill makes a statement … that we don’t welcome people here,”
Farley said. “This bill gets in the way, this bill sends the wrong message
around the country and around the world.”

A similar bill is making its way through the Arizona House and could come up
for floor debate any day.

The proposals are backed by the powerful Center for Arizona Policy, a social
conservative group that backs anti-abortion and conservative Christian
legislation in the state.

The bill is similar to a proposal last year brought by Yarbrough but vetoed by
Brewer. That legislation would have allowed people or religious groups to sue if
they believed they might be subject to a government regulation that infringed on
their religious rights. Yarbrough stripped a provision from the bill in hopes
Brewer will embrace the new version.

Civil-liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for
Arizona Policy had sought to minimize concerns that last year’s bill had
far-reaching and hidden implications. They said the bill would allow people to
break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

Yarbrough called that those worries “unrealistic and unsupported
hypotheticals” and said criminal laws will continue to be prosecuted by the


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