The Gaily News: Arizona's religious-protection bill upsets gay-rights supporters

  • "Dear Abby" slammed a homophobic Tampa couple in a recent letter.

The Arizona Legislature passed a religious-protection bill that will allow businesses to refuse services to the LGBT community and others if they believe doing so violates their religious beliefs.

The state’s Senate voted along party lines 17 to 13 to pass the bill on Wednesday. Then, Thursday evening, the Republican-led House passed the measure 33 to 27, with two Republicans siding with Democrats to oppose it.

Arizona Democrats called the legislation “state-sanctioned discrimination” and an embarrassment to the state.

Republicans, however, say it’s not about discrimination, but about protecting religious freedoms. They cited recent cases, including that of a New Mexico wedding photographer who was sued after refusing to photograph a gay couple.

Now the bill heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, whose office said she won’t take a side on the matter until she gets a chance to review the legislation. She vetoed a similar measure last year.

Other states have introduced similar legislation, including Ohio, Kansas, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma; Arizona’s is the only plan that has passed. Recent efforts in Kansas made headlines when the Republican-controlled House passed its proposed bill last week. However, it has since stalled in the Senate.

More LGBT news

Advice columnist “Dear Abby” received a letter this week from “Unhappy in Tampa,” written by a couple that recently relocated to Florida and was upset to learn their new neighborhood includes two gay couples.

When it was the couple’s turn to host a neighborhood social event, they excluded the same-sex couples because they don’t approve of their “lifestyle choice.” After this, they were offended when neighbors began to leave them off the invite list and called them bigots.

The couple said they moved to Tampa from “a conservative community where people were pretty much the same” and those who were “different…kept it to themselves.”

Jeanne Phillips, aka Abby, a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, shut down their rationale that being gay is a choice.

She wrote in her response:

The first thing I’d like to say is that regardless of what you were told in your previous community, a person’s sexual orientation isn’t a ‘lifestyle choice.’ Gay people don’t choose to be gay; they are born that way. They can’t change being gay any more than you can change being heterosexual.

Phillips also suggested they may have chosen the wrong community to live in and might be more comfortable in “a less integrated neighborhood.” But she also chastised the couple, telling them that by not interacting with those who are different they “will have missed a chance for growth, which is what you have been offered here.”

She ends the response with a not so subtle “Please don’t blow it.”

• Oregon’s attorney general announced she won’t defend the state’s voter-approved gay marriage ban in court.

In a legal brief filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said the ban wouldn’t withstand a federal constitutional challenge.

She wrote:

State Defendants will not defend the Oregon ban on same-sex marriage in this litigation. Rather, they will take the position in their summary judgment briefing that the ban cannot withstand a federal constitutional challenge under any standard of review. In the meantime, as the State Defendants are legally obligated to enforce the Oregon Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage, they will continue to do so unless and until this Court grants the relief sought by the plaintiffs.

Oregon voters passed the legislation defining marriage as being only between a man and a woman in 2004.

Earlier this month, Nevada’s Attorney General Catherine Cortez said new rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit make it impossible to defend a same-sex marriage ban in court. And in January, Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring took a similar stand, saying the state’s ban violates its’ residents constitutional rights. In recent years, attorney generals in Pennsylvania, California and Illinois have also said they wouldn’t defend their state’s bans on gay marriage.

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