‘Turn away gays’ bills dead after Arizona veto?

Mississippi, other states back off similar bills; will similar North Carolina version stay dead?

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes a bill that would have given greater 'religious freedom' protections to individuals and businesses to refuse service to others.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoes a bill that would have given greater ‘religious freedom’ protections to individuals and businesses to refuse service to others.
Photo Credit: Gov. Jan Brewer.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed her state’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act on Wednesday, as legislators in Mississippi moved to soften their own version of the bill. Several other states with similar legislation have also backed down from their plans to consider them.

“We thank Governor Brewer for her decision to veto this outrageous measure — a law that if enacted would be bad for Arizona people and the Arizona economy,” Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a written release. “In doing so, she has stopped a bill that both cynically uses religion as a smokescreen to justify discrimination and insults people of faith who feel that discrimination is morally wrong. This decision sends a clear message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions.”

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Brewer’s actions, combined with sustained national attention to similar bills across the country, may bring a halt to the latest attempts to discriminate against LGBT citizens.

North Carolina has its own version of the Arizona-style bill (HB 751), which would prohibit the state or any of its agencies and local governments from “substantially burden[-ing] a person’s free exercise of religion.” In theory, that would effectively cut off any potential legal recourse for a customer refused service by the owner of a restaurant, hotel or other business. Or, it could allow individual government employees — such as city or county clerks, paramedics and other first responders, social service workers and others — to refuse to provide assistance or service to individual citizens. The law also includes religious discrimination protections for any “corporation, firm, partnership, association, or organization.”

A similar North Carolina bill is sponsored by Rep. Jacqueline Michelle Schaffer (R-Mecklenburg).

A similar North Carolina bill is sponsored by Rep. Jacqueline Michelle Schaffer (R-Mecklenburg).

But, North Carolina’s version didn’t make the legislature’s self-imposed “crossover deadline.” It isn’t technically eligible for consideration this year, but could be amended into any bill on the legislature’s calendar when they return to Raleigh in May. Similar bills are eligible for consideration, including one protecting the right of religious student organizations on public college campuses to discriminate in their membership. This year’s session is normally reserved for budget negotiations. Some sources say Republican leadership will likely want to keep the session as short as possible and non-controversial heading into fall elections.

“I’m confident that the people of North Carolina and the legislature in North Carolina are reasonable enough that they would never try to advance such a bill,” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, previously told qnotes.

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For now, the movement to advance similar discriminatory bills seems stalled.

Evan Hurst, associate director of Truth Wins Out, said the Arizona’s veto was a “major defeat” for what he called a “concerted Hail Mary campaign to carve out special rights for religious conservatives so that they don’t have to play by the same rules as everyone else does.”

LGBT rights have been at the center of debates over such bills. Even without their passage, however, many states like Arizona and North Carolina do not have specific employment, housing, public accommodations or other non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.

North Carolina’s bill was written and introduced by Republican Mecklenburg County N.C. House Rep. Jacqueline Michelle Schaffer. A national group, activist David Barton’s WallBuilders Pro-Family Legislative Network, appears to have helped draft the bill.

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.