State lawmakers from both parties are seeking to enact new laws to nullify last year’s Arizona Supreme Court ruling allowing business owners to cite their “sincerely held religious beliefs’’ to refuse to serve gays.
But a Mesa lawmaker is among those blocking it.
The proposals from Sen. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, and Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, would expand existing laws now prohibiting discrimination in public accommodation based on race, religion, sex, age, disability or nationality.
Both SB 1321 and HB 2716 would add sexual orientation and gender identification to the list. Only a handful of Arizona cities already have such protections.
The potentially more far-reaching part of the plan would alter the current existing laws, now generally making it illegal for government to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion’’ even if this burden results from laws applied to everyone else.
It was this section of the law the state’s high court used to rule a Phoenix city ordinance, similar to parts of the statute Brophy McGee and Hernandez are proposing, did not require the owners of Brush & Nib Studios to prepare custom wedding invitations for gays.
To that end, they are proposing new language to say if a business is open to the public – as was the studio – it has to provide services to all customers, regardless of whether those services run counter to the beliefs of the owners.
Both measures face an uphill fight. Neither Senate President Karen Fann nor House Speaker Rusty Bowers of Mesa has agreed to allow either bill to be heard.
Fann said she’s been trying to keep all legislation dealing with gay rights, on both sides of the issue, off the legislative agenda.
Bowers said he sees no need to expand existing anti-discrimination laws to cover issues of sexual orientation and gender.
And he was particularly adamant about not overturning the Brush & Nib decision.
“I think my right of freedom of religion and religious beliefs and expression is at least equal to anybody else’s,’’ Bowers said.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said the law “would violate Arizonan’s conscience rights with the apparent intent to force health care providers to participate in abortions, or provide puberty blockers or surgery to minors and adults struggling with gender identity questions.’’
Brophy McGee told Capitol Media Services Herrod is finding problems with her legislation where none exists.
“Arizona has the strongest religious freedom laws in the country, which I support,’’ she said. “All we are asking for is fairness in employment housing and public accommodations.’’
And Brophy McGee, who is a foe of abortion, said she would not support any legislation affecting the issue.
“The court made clear the government ‘must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions,’ ‘’ Herrod said, quoting from the Bursh & Nib ruling.
But Brophy McGee said she views the issue in a different way.
She uses the example of what would happen if she, as a Catholic, were to go into a Muslim-owned bakery to order an Easter cake, complete with three crosses and inscribed ‘God our Savior, He is Risen.’
“I would expect them to bake it for me and decorate it for me,’’ Brophy McGee said, saying the business is opened to the public. “If you are a public business, we expect everybody be open to the public in the same way they are open to anybody.”