Observers say a bill winding its way through the Arizona state legislature would allow businesses to discriminate against minority groups not conforming to ultra-conservative Christian values, according to various reports.
State Senate Bill 1062, pushed by the conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy and introduced by Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough could allow individuals to use the pretexts of their religious beliefs as a defense tool in a lawsuit filed by another individual, according to the Arizona Republic.
The Center for Arizona Policy has been pushing the measure as a way to protect photographers and bakers from having to provide services for same-sex weddings, which are not legal in the state. And Yarbrough told The Sierra Vista Herald the legislation could allow hotel owners to deny LGBT people rooms and would protect businesses that had a religious objection to hiring unmarried women.
Oddly, Yarbrough told the Republic, “Prohibited discrimination remains prohibited. In no way does this bill allow discrimination of any kind.”
Opponents to the bill claim the legislation could also protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn’t Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to access “any business or service.”
Similar debates have raged across the country as other states legalize same-sex marriage.
According to The Associated Press, civil rights groups oppose the bill and “Yarbrough says his push was prompted by a New Mexico case where the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to take pictures of their wedding.”
Critics also argue the bill is too broad and sweeping and could be used as a pretext to break a wide swathe of laws while hiding under the one proposed by Yarbrough.
As various reports noted, this isn’t the first time Arizona lawmakers have tried to pass measures where freedoms of religion trumped other rights.
A similar bill to Yarbrough’s was passed by both the Arizona House and Senate in 2013 before it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who declined to sign any bills until the legislature acted on expanding Medicaid in the state.
The case in New Mexico that sparked the controversy in which Yarbrough is trying to follow is that of Elaine Huguenin, who declined an offer to photograph a lesbian couple’s wedding. Vanessa Willock and Misti Collinsworth, the couple who eventually hired another photographer, filed a discrimination complaint against Huguenin’s studio, Elane Photography.
Conservative state legislators are becoming more confident to draft increasingly restrictive bills. In the end, abortion, gay rights, and more are being targeted by a Republican party that sees anyone with views other than its own as a threat to their way of life, and that simply isn’t the case. If Republicans want to win more seats, they should stop trying to appease their extremist voter base and take on a more centrist role in their respective districts.