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Pressure mounts on Arizona Gov. to kill discriminatory bill

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer headed into a day of meetings Wednesday on SB 1062 -- a bill that has become the centerpiece of a watershed moment for gay rights.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in Washington on Feb. 24, 2014
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in Washington on Feb. 24, 2014

Under extensive pressure to veto a controversial piece of legislation many believe will open the door to broad discrimination, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer headed into a day of meetings Wednesday with supporters and opponents of SB 1062 -- a bill that would allow businesses the right to deny services to any person based on religious beliefs, and one that has become a watershed moment for gay rights.

The governor has not yet said what she will do with the legislation, which landed on her desk Monday, but she did vow on Twitter to “do the right thing for the State of Arizona” regarding SB 1062.

Meantime, outside her office a chorus of voices championing equality has reached fever pitch, with companies rushing to join the ranks of business leaders and lawmakers urging Brewer to use her executive power to kill the bill. Apple, Intel, Marriott Hotels, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, PetSmart, Yelp, Delta and American Airlines have all denounced the legislation, and the NFL indicated it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of moving Super Bowl XLIX -- due to take place next year at University of Phoenix Stadium -- in protest.

Both Republican senators from Arizona have spoken out publicly against the measure, as have three Republican state senators who voted for the bill, including one of its co-sponsors. Former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have also said a veto is the best option. Even Brewer’s closest advisers are recommending she nix the legislation, according to The Arizona Republic.

That was the scene awaiting the Republican governor, no stranger herself to controversial legislation, as she touched down in Phoenix Tuesday after returning from the winter conference of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Opponents are hopeful all the noise they’re making could provide enough political cover for Brewer to veto the bill without looking like she’s defying her core constituency.

On Wednesday, the onslaught of criticism and threats to pull business from the state continued. JPMorgan Chase and American Express both told Business Insider they wanted to see the bill vetoed. The CEO of San Francisco-based software company, Salesforce, said he would "never do another corporate event in Arizona" if SB 1062 became law. The Hispanic National Bar Association announced that it was pulling its 2015 convention from Phoenix. The Major League Baseball said it has a "zero-tolerance policy for harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation" and would "neither support nor tolerate any words, attitudes or actions" that go against its values. And 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."

Although Brewer is a conservative Republican who has supported restrictive anti-abortion measures and a law that limited adoption rights for gay couples and people in domestic partnerships, she has also shown herself willing to buck her party's far-right fringe, particularly when big business is on the line. She was willing to sacrifice her relationship with the Center for Arizona Policy, the conservative group that has pushed a number of bills Brewer signed, in order to pass last year's Medicaid expansion. She also supported a sales tax increase that brought in $1 billion to be used for state education funding. 

And despite the photographic evidence that Brewer has no problem publicly scolding the President of the United States, she did rebuke Arizona's "birthers" and veto a bill that would have mandated presidential candidates prove their citizenship before being allowed on the state ballot.

Prioritizing the needs of big business has been a winning strategy for Brewer. A recent report by Moody's Analytics, a financial services firm, projected Arizona is likely to lead the nation in job growth in 2014, behind only North Dakota. Signing SB 1062 could jeopardize that position by placing Arizona law at odds with the non-discrimination policies of corporations Brewer wants to bring to the state. 

SB 1062 is 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, insist proponents, 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.

Should Brewer veto the legislation, the only one so far to have made it to a governor's desk, it would be 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.