Arizona officials avoided the trap of establishing a climate of discrimination earlier this week, one that was confronted in New York state several years ago.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed Senate Bill 1062, which offered immunity to businesspeople who believed that providing services to gays and lesbians would violate their religious principles. The Arizona State Legislature passed the measure last week, a move that mobilized activists on both sides of the issue.
Capitol Confidential, a website featuring New York politics operated by the Times Union, had an item Wednesday that detailed how lawmakers in Albany wrestled with a similar question. As they debated making same-sex marriages legal, some legislators proposed incorporating language to protect merchants who objected to catering to people they believed were engaging in immoral acts.
If the idea of granting individuals and businesses civil protections if they want to refuse goods and services to gay people seems familiar, you might be flashing back to the late spring of 2011 when that concept was proposed by several fence-sitting New York Republican state lawmakers in advance of the Legislatures climactic vote to legalize same-sex marriage, according to the article on Capitol Confidential, written by Casey Seiler. Sen. Greg Ball took the lead on the proposal and suggested that the initial same-sex marriage program bill crafted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo needed to be redrafted to include language protecting individuals with religious objections from facing civil suits if they chose not to serve a same-sex married couple. Absent the circumscription to marriage, thats what Arizonas bill does. At the time, Sen. Diane Savino of the [Independent Democratic Conference] called that idea a separate and distinct Jim Crow statute for gay people that would shred numerous civil rights protections, including the 2002 Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act. The bill ultimately included language reiterating civil protections for religious institutions but not for individuals with religious objections.
In vetoing the Arizona measure, Gov. Brewer correctly pointed out that the bill may bring about unintended consequences. A blanket measure allowing businesses to discriminate against a specific group of people is a recipe for disaster, and lawmakers in New York state as well as Gov. Brewer were wise to turn it down.
This is not to downplay the importance of preserving religious freedom in our country. But there are times when many of us must do things that tweak our consciences, and this is particularly true when it comes to business.
Some religious groups oppose using public money to buy weaponry and engage in war. But this doesnt relieve them of their obligation to pay their taxes, some of which goes to these very purposes.
Determining if acts of discrimination are protected by religious liberty is best left to the courts on a case-by-case basis. This allows all parties involved to make their best arguments about why their viewpoints should prevail.