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Arizona considers letting businesses refuse to serve gays
February 22, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
The Arizona legislature has just passed a bill that would make it legal for business owners to refuse service to a customer on religious grounds. The bill now goes to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who vetoed similar legislation last year. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council is asking her to veto this bill too, as its passage could have a negative impact on the state's economy.
This bill is in direct response to the gay marriage bills that have been passed across the country. Though Arizona has a statutory ban against gay marriage, it's not hard for legislators to see the writing on the wall. Sooner rather than later, the U.S. Supreme Court will likely declare bans against gay marriage unconstitutional, as district courts in various states already have.
The larger and thornier question that legislators will need to answer in coming years is how to balance the rights of religious people who object to gay marriage against the rights of gay couples. The Arizona bill was also likely inspired by a 2013 New Mexico court ruling that a wedding photographer there violated the state's anti-discrimination laws by refusing to take photos at the commitment ceremony of a lesbian couple.
The problem with a law like Arizona's is that it would seem to violate various federal laws that require any business that provides a service to the public to serve everyone. A pharmacist can't refuse to fill a birth control prescription for an unmarried woman. A restaurant can't refuse to serve an interracial couple. Why exactly should Arizona business owners get away with refusing to serve a lesbian or gay couple? The answer is that they probably can't and, I would say, probably shouldn't. There's a clear difference between a church or synagogue or mosque, which cannot be required to marry a gay couple or allow gay couples to be members, and a religious individual or religiously affiliated organization that serves members of the general public. If Brewer signs this bill into law, it will probably be challenged in court and overturned, as it should be.
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