Arizona governor vetoes religious freedom bill

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FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2014 file photo, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks during her State of the State address at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. The Republican governor faced intensifying pressure Tuesday from CEOs, politicians in Washington and state lawmakers in her own party to veto a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2014 file photo, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer speaks during her State of the State address at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix. The Republican governor faced intensifying pressure Tuesday from CEOs, politicians in Washington and state lawmakers in her own party to veto a bill that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

FILE-Cathi Herrod, president of the Center For Arizona Policy, speaks during an Arizona state House of Representatives hearing at the Arizona Capitol, in Phoenix, in this June 10, 2013. Arizona’s Republican Gov. Jan Brewer faced intensifying pressure Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, from CEOs, politicians in Washington and state lawmakers in her own party to veto a bill supported by Herrod’s group that would allow business owners with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Anthony Musa, left, and Brianna Pantillione join nearly 250 gay rights supporters protesting SB1062 at the Arizona Capitol, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Phoenix. The protesters gathered demanding Gov. Jan Brewer veto legislation that would allow business owners to refuse to serve gays by citing their religious beliefs. The governor must sign or veto Senate Bill 1062 by the end of next week. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Nearly 250 gay rights supporters protest SB1062 at the Arizona Capitol, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Phoenix. The protesters gathered demanding Gov. Jan Brewer veto legislation that would allow business owners to refuse to serve gays by citing their religious beliefs. The governor must sign or veto Senate Bill 1062 by the end of next week. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Gov. Jan Brewer on Wednesday vetoed a Republican bill that set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.

Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement.

“My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona,” Brewer said at a news conference. “I call them like I seem them despite the tears or the boos from the crowd. After weighing all the arguments, I have vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.”

The governor said she gave the legislation careful deliberation in talking to her lawyers, citizens and lawmakers on both sides of the debate.

But Brewer said the bill “could divide Arizona in ways we could not even imagine and no one would ever want.” The bill was broadly worded and could result in unintended negative consequences, she added.

The bill backed by Republicans in the Legislature was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.

The bill thrust Arizona into the national spotlight last week after both chambers of the state legislature approved it. As the days passed, more and more groups, politicians and average citizens weighed in against Senate Bill 1062. Many took to social media to criticize the bill, calling it an attack on gay and lesbian rights.

Prominent Phoenix business groups said it would be another black eye for the state that saw a national backlash over its 2010 immigration-crackdown law, SB1070, and warned that businesses looking to expand into the state may not do so if bill became law.

Companies such as Apple Inc. and American Airlines and politicians including GOP Sen. John McCain and former Republican presidential nominee were among those who urged Brewer to veto the legislation.

Brewer was under intense pressure to veto the bill, including from three Republicans who had voted for the bill last week. They said in a letter to Brewer that while the intent of their vote “was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance.”

SB 1062 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination. Backers cite a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to document their wedding, even though the law that allowed that suit doesn’t exist in Arizona.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough called his proposal a First Amendment issue during a Senate debate.

“This bill is not about allowing discrimination,” Yarbrough said. “This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

Democrats said it was a veiled attempt to legally discriminate against gay people and could allow people to break nearly any law and cite religious freedom as a defense.

“The heart of this bill would allow for discrimination versus gays and lesbians,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. “You can’t argue the fact that bill will invite discrimination. That’s the point of this bill. It is.”

The bill is similar to a proposal last year brought by Yarbrough but vetoed by Brewer, a Republican. That legislation also would have allowed people or religious groups to sue if they believed they might be subject to a government regulation that infringed on their religious rights. Yarbrough stripped that provision from the bill in the hopes Brewer will embrace the new version.

Civil-liberties and secular groups countered that Yarbrough and the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful social conservative group that backs anti-abortion and conservative Christian legislation in the state and is opposed to gay marriage, had sought to minimize

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