Gay Rights Groups Oppose Religious Protection Bill

February 20, 2014

(Photo courtesy of the Arizona State Legislature)
Sen. Steve Yarbrough sponsored the bill.

The Arizona House has begun debating a Republican bill that would expand people's rights to assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays and others. The majority Republican House took up debate Thursday afternoon, a day after the full Senate passed the bill after nearly two hours of debate. House Bill 2153 would allow people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination.

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Yarbrough said it is a First Amendment issue.

The legislation is a response to a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling. It held that a company that refused to photograph a gay wedding, had violated the couple’s civil rights. Under the measure an Arizona business could not be forced to act in a way that burdens a sincerely held religious belief.  Sen. Steve Gallardo said that goes too far.

“We all have a right to our religious beliefs, but I do not agree that we have the right to discriminate because of our religious beliefs," said Gallardo.

But, Yarbrough said Gallardo has it all wrong.

“This bill is not about allowing discrimination. It is about preventing discrimination against people who are living out their faith as clearly contemplated by the First Amendment," said Yarbrough.

Before approving the measure, the majority rebuffed an attempt to force businesses that do not want to serve gays to post signs at their front doors.

Democrats and civil rights groups oppose the proposal, saying it would allow discriminatory actions by businesses. Democrats said it is an outright attack on the rights of gays and lesbians.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Updated 2/20/2014 at 3:00 p.m.