Religious Belief Claims Don’t Justify Discrimination
February 26, 2014
Arizona’s legislature has reached a new low by awarding special legal protection to businesses and individuals that discriminate against LGBT people. Governor Jan Brewer’s failure to veto this bill would not only be disastrous for Arizona, but would be likely to spur such odious legislation in other US states.
Graeme Reid, director, LGBT Rights Program

Update (February 27, 2014): On February 26, 2014, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer announced her decision to veto Senate Bill 1062, which would have provided special legal protections to businesses and individuals that discriminate against LGBT people. She told the media that the bill "does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona," and that it was "broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences."

(New York, February 26, 2014) – The governor of the US state of Arizona should veto a bill that would allow business services to be refused to same-sex couples and permit a “religious belief” defense in discrimination suits brought by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 20, 2014, the Arizona state legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1062, which amends Arizona's Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has until February 28 to veto or sign the measure.

“Arizona’s legislature has reached a new low by awarding special legal protection to businesses and individuals that discriminate against LGBT people,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Governor Jan Brewer’s failure to veto this bill would not only be disastrous for Arizona, but would be likely to spur such odious legislation in other US states.”

If signed, the law would be the first in the United States that would permit businesses to refuse services to LGBT people based on a person’s “sincerely held religious belief,” Human Rights Watch said. Brewer vetoed a similar measure last year.

Arizona state antidiscrimination law does not protect people against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. However, the cities of Phoenix, Flagstaff, and Tucson have passed local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  If signed, the law would not only allow businesses and individuals to refuse services to LGBT people, as well as those who are perceived to be LGBT, it would also permit them to use religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, even in cities that have prohibited such discrimination.

The proposed Arizona law is similar to measures seeking to permit discrimination against LGBT people on religious grounds that have recently been introduced in several other US states, including Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Oklahoma. However, Arizona’s state legislature is the only one to have approved such a measure.

The law would set back progress established by landmark US civil rights cases such as Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, Human Rights Watch said. That case upheld key provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and prohibited places of public accommodation from refusing services based upon an individual’s race, sex, color, religion, or national origin.

“The proposed Arizona law not only threatens LGBT people, it threatens 50 years of US civil rights protections that require businesses to serve everyone equally,” Reid said.