Arizona’s Senate and state House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 1062 making Arizona legislature national news once again. Supporters of the bill say that it protects businesses, corporations, and individuals from lawsuits after denying services based on sincere religious beliefs. Bill opponents would describe it as legal discrimination against same-sex couples and other groups. United Methodists have been leading the way in opposition of SB 1062. Billie K. Fidlin, Director of Outreach for The Desert Southwest Conference and Rev. Stephen Govett, pastor at Asbury UMC, have been working with the organizers of rallies opposing SB 1062.
Fidlin explains, “In essence, the passage of this law, now on the Governor’s desk, would give individuals the right to use their religious beliefs as a protective defense should they be sued for discriminatory practice. These lawsuits would find their basis in refusing service to another, because of the perception about those seeking service. The most often-cited example by bill opponents is members of the GLTBQ community being refused service because of their status. While the bill is not specific in stating such an example, it is the obvious possible consequence of such legislation.” The text of the bill is available on the Arizona State Legislature’s website link, http://www.azleg.gov/legtext/51leg/2r/bills/sb1062s.pdf .
Regarding the stance that the bill protects religious beliefs, Rev. Govett said, “No religion should have within its system of beliefs the idea or practice of discrimination. It goes against every scripture, story, and tenet that we hold sacred. Nowhere do I find in Christian scripture, tradition, reason, or experience, the idea that if you disagree with someone it is O.K. to discriminate. In fact, I find just the opposite. The fact that some want to hide behind religious freedom to justify discrimination against those whom with they disagree is not only wrong, but it is sinful.”
The bill is causing thousands of people and major businesses alike to contact Governor Jan Brewer. Three of the Republican senators that originally voted for the bill changed their decision and have written to the Governor asking her to veto the bill. Major businesses such as Intel, Marriott, American Airlines, and Apple have contacted the Governor asking her to veto the bill. Multiple protests have taken place at the State Capitol and are expected to continue with demonstrations occurring in Tucson, Flagstaff, and Safford in addition to the gatherings at the capitol. Local and national news stations such as CNN have been reporting on the growing demonstrations.
Miguel Marquez, CNN Correspondent reporting from the state capitol shared that business leaders and politicians he spoke with agreed it will affect them financially and cause legal expenses that the state cannot afford. In a previously-published statement, Fidlin clarified what these leaders referred to, “Should Governor Brewer sign this into law, two things will likely happen. One: lawsuit. Pure and simple the law will be immediately challenged as it should be—more taxpayer dollars … Secondly; this state will yet again be branded as discriminatory. … This bill will hurt people. It affords nothing but discriminatory practice … The integrity of the GLTBQ community is at risk, among others.”
For these reasons, Fidlin and Rev. Govett are extending an invitation all to come together in prayer at 7:00 pm on Thursday, February 27, 2014. For those that are able, a gathering on the lawn at the state capitol will take place at that time with lead organizers Anthony Musa, Brendan Pantilione, and Lee Walters, as well as speakers from the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, the Presbytery of the Grand Canyon, and The Desert Southwest Conference.
Governor Brewer has until Saturday, February 27, 2014 to veto, approve, or ignore the bill. Ignoring the bill would mean it becomes law but without her endorsement. Individuals that would like to voice their opinion to their government can find a list of elected officials at http://az.gov/government/eDemocracy#section1 or call the Governor at 602-542-4331.