Legislature Makes Bipartisan Push For Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity Protections
State lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to extend the state’s non-discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identification. Existing law already prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin, and extends to employment, housing and public accommodations.
State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee (R-Phoenix) and Rep. Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) are running similar bills at the Legislature — bills that fly in the face of a state Supreme Court ruling last year. The court ruled in favor of Phoenix-based Brush & Nib Studios, saying the business owners were free to cite their "sincerely held religious beliefs" to refuse service to potential LGBT customers.
Brophy McGee and Hernandez now want language on the books to say that if a business is open to the public, it must provide services to all customers.
"After the Brush & Nib decision, we've opened up Pandora's Box which says that you can potentially using the courts go after the LGBT community," Hernandez said. "And that's why we need to make sure this is done at the state level to ensure that this is not an avenue that is open where the courts can be misused because there was a pathway that was set after Brush & Nib."
But while Hernandez may be in agreement with moderate Republicans like Brophy McGee, their proposals face an uphill battle. Neither Senate President Karen Fann (R-Prescott) nor House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa) has agreed to even hear the bills.
"I'm not going to overturn Brush & Nib. I think that my right of freedom of religion and religious beliefs and expression is at least equal to anybody else's. And I don't want to overturn that," Bowers told Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services.
Bowers' position is bolstered by Cathi Herrod, president of the socially conservative advocacy group Center for Arizona Policy, who told Capitol Media Services the proposed changes to state law would "violate Arizonans' conscience rights."
But there’s a competing argument that could appeal to some on the right: an argument of economics and the state’s ability to draw in big-name companies and events.
"We are truly at a competitive disadvantage to attracting these marquee events because we are not inclusive of LGBTQ community. And our neighbors are," said Robert Heidt, president and CEO of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.
Neither the House nor Senate bills have yet been scheduled for a hearing.