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Arizona governor vetoes religious rights bill

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s action came amid mounting pressure from Arizona business leaders, who said the bill would be a financial disaster for the state and harm its reputation.

Samantha Sais /Reuters

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s action came amid mounting pressure from Arizona business leaders, who said the bill would be a financial disaster for the state and harm its reputation.

PHOENIX — Ending days that cast a glaring national spotlight on Arizona, Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, vetoed a bill Wednesday that would have given business owners the right to refuse service to gay men, lesbians, and other people on religious grounds.

Her action came amid mounting pressure from Arizona business leaders, who said the bill would be a financial disaster for the state and harm its reputation. Prominent members of the Republican establishment, including former presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain of Arizona and Governor Rick Scott of Florida, sided with the bill’s opponents, who argued that the measure would have allowed people to use religion as a fig leaf for prejudice.

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Brewer announced her veto at a hastily called news conference, after spending the day holed up in the Capitol in private meetings with the bill’s opponents and supporters.

“I call them like I see them, despite the cheers and boos from the crowd,” she said.

She added that the legislation “does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty’’ and that it was “broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”

The governor castigated the Republican-controlled Legislature, which passed the bill last week, for making it the first piece of legislation to reach her desk this year. Her priorities, she said, are a budget, continuing the state’s economic growth, and “fixing our broken child protection system.”

The bill was inspired by incidents in other states in which florists, photographers, and bakers were sued for refusing to cater to same-sex couples. But it would have allowed much broader religious exemptions by business owners.

A range of critics said it was broadly discriminatory and would have permitted all sorts of denials of service, allowing, say, a Muslim taxi driver to refuse to pick up a woman traveling solo.

Supporters said the bill was needed to allow people to live and work by their religious beliefs.

“This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” State Senator Steve Yarbrough said during debate on the measure last week. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

At her news conference, Brewer acknowledged the qualms that many people have about same-sex marriage and noted that society was undergoing many dramatic changes.

She said, “religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value,” but added, “so is no discrimination.”

Reactions of relief came swiftly. McCain said in a statement, “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.”

Even as she deliberated — hour by hour — the state began to lose business: The Hispanic National Bar Association said Wednesday it had canceled plans to hold its annual convention of 2,000 lawyers here next year, citing the bill.

The National Football League, which had planned to hold the Super Bowl here next year, started actively exploring its second-choice location, Tampa, in case Brewer passed the bill, Sports Illustrated reported.

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