State lawmakers from both parties are seeking to enact new laws that would 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 that now prohibit discrimination in public accommodation based on race, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin.
Both SB 1321 and HB 2716 would add sexual orientation and gender identification to the list.
The potentially more far-reaching part of the plan would alter the current existing laws that now generally make it illegal for government to “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion’’ even if that burden results from laws that apply to everyone else.
It was that section of the law that the state’s high court used to rule that a Phoenix ordinance – similar to parts of the statute Brophy McGee and Hernandez propose – 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 that if a business is open to the public, it has to provide services to all customers, regardless of whether they run counter to the owners’ beliefs.
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 agenda.
Bowers said he sees no need to expand existing anti-discrimination laws to cover sexual orientation and gender.
And he was particularly adamant about not overturning the Brush & Nib decision.
“I think that 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 Arizonans 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.’’
“It essentially puts the demands of the LGBTQ community above those who exercise their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion,’’ she said.
But Brophy McGee told Capitol Media Services that Herrod is finding problems with her legislation where none exist.
“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.’’
Herrod noted, “The court made clear that the government ‘must not be allowed to force persons to express a message contrary to their deepest convictions.’”
But Brophy McGee said 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,’’ that “I would expect them to bake it for me and decorate it for me.’’