Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, returns to Phoenix from Washington on Tuesday and flies straight into a political storm over a new state bill that allows local businesses to refuse to serve gay people on grounds of religious freedom.
Brewer has until end of play on Saturday to decide whether or not to veto SB 1062, which has cleared the legislature under the title “exercise of religion” and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Though it does not mention same-sex marriage or relationships directly, it is clearly targeted at gay people, giving businesses immunity from discrimination lawsuits should they chose to deny service to customers in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Prominent Republicans, businesses groups in Arizona and even some religious leaders have called on the governor to block the bill. The signs were on Tuesday that she would accede to the pressure.
“I have a history of deliberating and having an open dialogue on bills that are controversial, to listen to both sides of those issues, and I welcome the input and information that they can provide to me,” Brewer said in an interview with CNN. “And certainly I am pro-business, and that is what’s turning our economy around, so I appreciate their input, as I appreciate the other side.”
The political maelstrom engulfing Brewer – in which prominent political figures, businesses and even religious leaders are pleading with the governor to block the bill – puts Arizona at the front line of the increasingly tense confrontation over gay marriage that is sweeping across the US. Gay rights activists have been emboldened by the US supreme court’s decision last June to award same-sex spouses equal federal benefit rights, prompting an anti-gay backlash primarily in the more conservative southern states.
On Tuesday, a trial opened in federal court in Detroit in which a lesbian couple challenged Michigan’s constitutional ban on gay marriage. The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, contests the constitutional amendment passed by Michigan voters in 2004 on the grounds that it violates the equal protection clause of the US constitution.
Federal judges have recently struck down similar bans in Oklahoma and Utah, where state authorities are appealing. In Virginia, the state’s attorney general decided not to defend a legal challenge. At least 17 states and the District of Columbia have legislated in favour of same-sex marriages, while more than 30, including Arizona, still proscribe the practice.