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Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes anti-gay bill

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer announced Wednesday she would veto a bill that would have opened the door to discrimination of gays and lesbians.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks at the annual Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry legislative luncheon, Jan. 10, 2014.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks at the annual Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry legislative luncheon, Jan. 10, 2014.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have opened the door to discrimination of gays and lesbians. It was a swift and major victory for gay rights after a week of sustained pressure from corporations, lawmakers, the NFL, and even Major League Baseball, all of which urged Brewer to veto the bill.

"After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago," Brewer said in a televised statement Wednesday night. She said the bill had been broadly worded and did not address any identifiable "concern related to religious liberty in Arizona."

Moments after she spoke, crowds gathered outside the state house erupted into cheers. 

SB 1062 would have allowed businesses to turn away gay and lesbians based on claims of sincerely held religious beliefs. Supporters of the bill argued it would protect "religious freedom." But opponents saw it as sweeping discrimination that would harm the community. 

Brewer, a Republican governor who is familiar with taking the national stage to weigh in on social issues from guns to immigration, is no progressive. But in the end, she caved to Big Business--a strong constituent-base with major clout in Arizona--over the religious right. 

Apple, Intel, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, PetSmart, Yelp, Delta and American Airlines all denounced the proposed legislation. The NFL wouldn't rule out the possibility of moving Super Bowl XLIX – due to take place next year at University of Phoenix Stadium – in protest.

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona issued a statement saying he appreciated Brewer's decision. "I hope that we can now move on from this controversy and assure the American people that everyone is welcome to live, work and enjoy our beautiful State of Arizona," he said..

Opposition to the bill from within Brewer's own party had swelled in recent days. Three Republican state senators who voted for the bill, including one of its co-sponsors, came out against it. Former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich had also said a veto was the best option. Even Brewer’s closest advisers recommended she nix the legislation, according to The Arizona Republic.

SB 1062 was one of several measures to have surfaced in state legislatures across the country that many believe seek to blunt historic gains for marriage equality and gay rights. The motivation behind the bills, proponents insist, is to guarantee the free exercise of religion for business owners as the barriers to same-sex nuptials collapse. A number of wedding service providers have recently lost in court after refusing to work with same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs. But opponents warn the language of these measures – SB 1062, especially – provide cover to deny a host of basic life needs, like equal pay, not just to gays and lesbians, but also to women and other protected classes of people.

Acknowledging that the country is shifting toward broad acceptance of gay rights and same-sex marriage, Brewer spoke directly to those who backed the bill. "To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before," she said.

"Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve," she said.

Civil rights advocates who strongly support a person's right to exercise their religious beliefs argued Wednesday that religious freedom does not afford Americans the right to harm others. "The massive public opposition to this, as well as several other failed bills across the country, shows that Americans of all political persuasions and religions feel the same way," said Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

The level of corporate shaming against the controversial legislation reached fever pitch by Wednesday as many of the nation's most influential businesses and leaders united in strongly-worded opposition to the bill. The MLB cited its "zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination" as reason to shun the proposed bill. Other major companies, from the hotel chain Marriott to computer chip manufacturer Intel, warned of the detrimental effect the measures would have on local businesses. 

Even Secretary of State John Kerry openly questioned whether the bill could pass constitutional muster.

“I cannot imagine how that law would withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of the United States,” said Kerry in an interview with msnbc’s Andrea Mitchell. “I would hope that she will make the right decision.”

Brewer's decision provided a major victory for gay rights advocates, who see these bills as the next front in the equality debate. On Tuesday, Georgia became the latest state to consider legislation that could sanction discrimination in the name of religious freedom. Similar legislation was introduced this week in Missouri. And the state House of Representatives in Kansas passed its version earlier this month, before it became stalled in the state Senate.