Path to discrimination? AZ Legislature OKs religious freedom bil - CBS 5 - KPHO

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Path to discrimination? AZ Legislature OKs religious freedom bill

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Protesters gather at the Arizona State Capitol to voice their opposition to SB 1062. (Source: CBS 5 News) Protesters gather at the Arizona State Capitol to voice their opposition to SB 1062. (Source: CBS 5 News)
Opponents say SB 1062, the so-called religious freedom bill, will hurt Arizona economically. (Source: CBS 5 News) Opponents say SB 1062, the so-called religious freedom bill, will hurt Arizona economically. (Source: CBS 5 News)
PHOENIX (CBS5/AP) -

Arizona is, once again, making national headlines for passing a controversial piece of legislation.

On Thursday afternoon the House passed a Republican-backed bill that expands the rights of people to assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays and others.

"I don't see this as an attack insofar as those who believe you're protecting your right to practice your religion and not engage in a contract," explained Republican Rep. Adam Kwasman of Oro Valley, who voted in favor of Senate Bill 1062.

Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the measure, saying it would allow discriminatory actions by businesses.

"We saw it with Russia and the Olympics," said Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell of Phoenix, who voted against the legislation. "I mean, hey, I'm not sure if Russia is any less progressive than Arizona now against gay rights to be quite honest with you."

After nearly four hours of debate, the House approved SB 1062, which they merged with HB 2153, on a 33-27 vote Thursday afternoon.

Three Republicans, Ethan Orr from Tucson, Kate Brophy McGee from Phoenix and Heather Carter from Cave Creek, joined all Democrats in opposition. [Click here which lawmakers in the House voted for or against the bill]

A day earlier, the state Senate passed the bill after nearly two hours of debate on a straight 17-13 party-line vote. [Click here to see the Senate votes]

SB 1062 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination.

Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said his bill is a First Amendment issue.

It was heavily backed by the conservative, religious organization Center for Arizona Policy.

"In America, people should be free to live and work according to their faith," said Josh Kredit, legal counsel for CAP.

Opponents say the bill is an outright attack on the LGBT community.

"To me what this says is Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff have nondiscrimination ordinances that protect LBGT people, and, we in the House of Representatives and we in the Senate don't like that," said Ira Bohm-Sanchez, who was one of many people protesting SB 1062 at the State Capitol on Thursday night.

Many business owners worry SB 1062 will give Arizona another black eye and result in an economic backlash similar to what happened after SB 1070, the state's controversial immigration enforcement law, was signed.

"It's sending a message to progressive, global companies that this is not a friendly environment to work within or have a business within," said Glenn Hammond who runs a Phoenix business that deals with tourism.

The bill is now on its way to Gov. Jan Brewer's desk, and, opponents are urging her to make a wise decision.

"Think about what this says to the rest of the country," said Phoenix resident, Monica Jones. "We are not Russia. We are a first nation. And, as Americans, we have civil rights. So, think about that."

Campbell released the following statement in response to the passage of SB 1062:

"This bill takes aim at the LGBTQ community. It seems to be a reaction to the civil rights laws passed by Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff. SB 1062 does nothing to create jobs and it does nothing to improve education. Instead, it promotes extremism and provides opportunities for discrimination. The bottom line is, this bill is going to hurt the LGBTQ community and that is unacceptable.

"Gov. Brewer rejected a similar bill last year, and I encourage her to do the same with SB 1062. We should be working on legislation that protects the rights of all people. SB 1062 tells the nation that we only welcome certain people to Arizona. This bill is a state sanction of discrimination against the LGBTQ community and that is unacceptable."

The ACLU of Arizona is also calling on Brewer to veto what they call the unnecessary and discriminatory SB 1062, passed by the Arizona Legislature.

"Once again Arizona's Legislature is on the wrong side of history. Four years ago, after the passage of SB 1070, we were ridiculed for legalizing discrimination against brown people. The targets today are gay and lesbian Arizonans. They own homes, run businesses and pay taxes just like everyone else but under the guise of religious freedom they are now being vilified by Arizona lawmakers. This bill is not about God or faith. There are already laws on the books in Arizona protecting religious freedom. What today's bill does is allow private individuals and businesses to use religion to discriminate, sending a message that Arizona is intolerant and unwelcoming. The ACLU of Arizona calls on Gov. Jan Brewer to veto the unnecessary and discriminatory SB 1062, passed today by the Arizona legislature."

Neither House or Senate Republicans issued a collective statement on the matter.
 
Protesters plan another rally at the State Capitol from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, demanding that Brewer veto SB 1062. [Click here to read the bill]

Stay with cbs5az.com and CBS 5 News for updates on this developing story.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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