State lawmakers voted Tuesday to allow clubs at universities and community colleges to exclude gays — and maybe others — without losing their public funding.
SB1153, given final approval by both the Senate and House, would make it illegal for publicly funded schools to deny access or finances to any campus organization solely because it restricts its membership to those who share religious, political or philosophical beliefs.
The measure now goes to Gov. Janet Napolitano, who has not said whether she will sign it. If it becomes law, the most immediate effect would be to overrule an Arizona Board of Regents policy that specifically bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Sen. Linda Gray, RGlendale, said the legislation stems from the inability of the Christian Legal Society to get the same funding as other clubs at Arizona State University. That was because the group refused to accept people who were not Christians.
A 2004 lawsuit filed by the organization was settled with a policy change that would allow such groups to receive equal funding under certain circumstances, a change mirrored at the other two state universities. But Gray said she fears the problem will arise with other groups unless legislators intervene.
Gray conceded that other groups with more controversial beliefs, like white supremacists, also could demand equal university funding.
Where that line is drawn is not exactly clear. Gray’s legislation would allow colleges to refuse to recognize groups that engage in “invidious discrimination’’ on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, citizenship, age, veteran status or disability.