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3 GOP lawmakers reverse support of Arizona bill criticized as anti-gay

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TUCSON — Three Republicans who supported a bill bolstering the rights of business owners to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion reversed course Monday and asked the governor to veto the controversial measure.

Republican state Sens. Adam Driggs, Steve Pierce and Bob Worsley wrote a letter to Gov. Jan Brewer pleading for her to reject SB 1062. The measure is intended to support business owners who refuse service to gays and others because they believe serving them violates the practice and observance of their religion.

"While our sincere intent in voting for this bill was to create a shield for all citizens' religious liberties, the bill has instead been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance. These allegations are causing our state immeasurable harm," the state senators wrote. "As Arizona leaders, we feel it is important to loudly proclaim that we strongly condemn discrimination in any form."

The state lawmakers joined Arizona's U.S. senators, Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake, in asking Brewer for a veto. All of the Republicans in the state Senate voted for the measure, as did all but two in the state House.

Some foes of the legislation have threatened to boycott Arizona if the bill becomes law. That possibility worries some companies and business organizations, which have urged Brewer to veto it.

Apple, American Airlines and Marriott are among them.

"It is exceedingly difficult for us to sell Arizona as a destination against a backdrop of negative attention suggesting certain travelers or conference attendees would not be welcome here — as a matter of law," Marriott wrote the governor.

The Arizona Super Bowl Committee also came out against the bill, saying it would "deal a significant blow" to the state's economy. Arizona is scheduled to host the 2015 Super Bowl.

The governor has until Friday to sign or veto the bill, which the Legislature passed last week. Brewer has said she has not made a decision.

Gay rights activists, business groups, a coalition of faith-based leaders and politicians from various political persuasions also have criticized the bill.

Several online petitions against the bill are drawing support, including at least a dozen on Change.org. The most popular, created by Jacqueline Todd of Phoenix, has more than 60,000 signatures, according to a spokesman for Change.org.

Proponents of SB 1062 say the bill is being misrepresented as discriminatory when it is intended to protect religious freedom.

"The religious beliefs of all Arizonans must be respected, and this bill does nothing more than affirm that," said Republican state Sen. Steve Yarbrough, who introduced the measure.

Technically, the bill expands the definition of the free exercise of religion, allowing a faithful person to adhere to his or her beliefs in practice. It also expands the definition of "person" to include any business, association and corporation.

Arizona's bill is similar to proposals in other states, including ones that failed in Kansas and Idaho. Another is under consideration in Utah.

The legislation comes as support for same-sex marriage is gaining momentum in the courts, and on the heels of two cases in which state courts sided with gay couples in wedding-related lawsuits.

In New Mexico, the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony. And in Colorado, a state judge ruled against a baker who had refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple.

cindy.carcamo@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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