The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 2/24/14, 10:56 PM ET

'Religious freedom is a cloak for prejudice'

Arizona passed a law allowing businesses to refuse service to anyone based on personal beliefs, especially LGBT customers. George Takei and Arizona House Minority Leader Chad Campbell join Lawrence O’Donnell.

George Takei threatens to boycott Arizona over anti-LGBT law

Updated

Actor and gay rights activist George Takei warned Arizona to expect a boycott campaign if the controversial so-called “turn away the gay” bill becomes law.

In an open letter to residents beginning with “Dear Arizona,” the Star Trek actor sarcastically congratulated them for becoming the “first state actually to pass a bill permitting businesses–even those open to the public–to refuse to provide service to LGBT people based on an individual’s ‘sincerely held religious belief.’”

“This ‘turn away the gay’ bill enshrines discrimination into the law. Your taxi drivers can refuse to carry us. Your hotels can refuse to house us. And your restaurants can refuse to serve us,” Takei wrote.

A bill, SB 1062, passed by the Arizona legislature now awaits the signature of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer. The law would allow business to reject gay and lesbian customers, employers to skimp on equal wages for its female employee and individuals to break contract obligations – all under the guise of religious freedom.

“The law is breathtaking in its scope. It gives bigotry against us gays and lesbians a powerful and unprecedented weapon,” said Takei. “But your mean-spirited representatives and senators know this.” He added, “They also know that it is going to be struck down eventually by the courts. But they passed it anyway, just to make their hateful opinion of us crystal clear.”

Takei described his deep ties to the state; his husband Brad was born in Phoenix and the pair spends three weeks in Arizona every year on vacation to visit family and friends. But, Takei vowed to spend his time and tourist dollars elsewhere if this law gets the greenlight.

“If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know–from large corporations to small families on vacation–to boycott. Because you don’t deserve our dollars. Not one red cent.”

While Brewer vetoed similar legislation last year, she has yet to take a position on the issue.

“It is the governor’s policy to not comment on legislation until she’s had a chance to review it,” said Ann Dockendorff, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, in a statement.  “Monday would be the earliest she would take action, assuming it’s transmitted by the Senate by then. She’ll have five days to act once she receives it.”

A growing number of lawmakers and businesses are speaking out against this bill. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Republicans from Arizona, urged Brewer to veto it, along with Apple, American Airlines and Marriott.

The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee released a statement Monday opposing SB 1062: “We do not support this legislation. Instead, we look forward to continuing to promote the NFL’s values while focusing on the economic momentum apparent in Arizona and capturing the positive worldwide attention associated with hosting Super Bowl XLIX.”

Read the full text of Takei’s letter below.

February 21, 2014

Dear Arizona,

Congratulations. You are now the first state actually to pass a bill permitting businesses–even those open to the public–to refuse to provide service to LGBT people based on an individual’s “sincerely held religious belief.” This “turn away the gay” bill enshrines discrimination into the law. Your taxi drivers can refuse to carry us. Your hotels can refuse to house us. And your restaurants can refuse to serve us.

Kansas tried to pass a similar law, but had the good sense to not let it come up for a vote. The quashing came only after the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and other traditional conservative groups came out strongly against the bill.

But not you, Arizona. You’re willing to ostracize and marginalize LGBT people to score political points with the extreme right of the Republican Party. You say this bill protects “religious freedom,” but no one is fooled. When I was younger, people used “God’s Will” as a reason to keep the races separate, too. Make no mistake, this is the new segregation, yours is a Jim Crow law, and you are about to make yourself ground zero.

This bill also saddens me deeply. Brad and I have strong ties to Arizona. Brad was born in Phoenix, and we vacation in Show Low. We have close friends and relatives in the state and spend weeks there annually. We even attended the Fourth of July Parade in Show Low in 2012, looking like a pair of Arizona ranchers.

The law is breathtaking in its scope. It gives bigotry against us gays and lesbians a powerful and unprecedented weapon. But your mean-spirited representatives and senators know this. They also know that it is going to be struck down eventually by the courts. But they passed it anyway, just to make their hateful opinion of us crystal clear.

So let me make mine just as clear. If your Governor Jan Brewer signs this repugnant bill into law, make no mistake. We will not come. We will not spend. And we will urge everyone we know–from large corporations to small families on vacation–to boycott. Because you don’t deserve our dollars. Not one red cent.

And maybe you just never learn. In 1989, you voted down recognition of the Martin Luther King holiday, and as a result, conventions and tourists boycotted the state, and the NFL moved the Superbowl to Pasadena. That was a $500 million mistake.

So if our appeals to equality, fairness, and our basic right to live in a civil society without doors being slammed in our face for being who we are don’t move you, I’ll bet a big hit to your pocketbook and state coffers will.

–George Takei

Arizona and Discrimination

George Takei threatens to boycott Arizona over anti-LGBT law

Updated