Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a religious freedom bill Wednesday under threat of a national boycott by foes of the measure who said it would promote discrimination against gays.
“I sincerely believe Senate Bill 1062 has potential to create more problems than it purports to solve,” Ms. Brewer said at a brief press conference. “It could divide Arizona in ways that we could not even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is nondiscrimination.”
The Republican governor said she met with lawmakers, citizens and attorneys before making the decision. She had until Saturday to sign or veto the bill, or allow it to become law without her signature.
Doug Napier, senior counsel for the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom in Scottsdale, said the veto represented a defeat for freedom and victory for fear and a national campaign that the bill’s proponents said had wildly distorted the bill.
“Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed. Today’s veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona,” Mr. Napier said in a statement.
Supporters said the bill, which sparked a fierce national debate, is meant to clarify and strengthen the legal rights of business owners who object to providing services that violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs. Critics contended the bill was so broadly written that it provided a virtual license to discriminate in the marketplace against gays or other targeted groups.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund, cheered the governor’s decision. She said the legislation would have been “bad for Arizona people and the Arizona economy.”
“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,” Ms. Carey said in a statement. “This decision sends a clear message that extremism is totally unacceptable to people of all political persuasions.”
The governor’s veto also was praised by Arizona’s two Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake. “I hope that we can now move on from this controversy and assure the American people that everyone is welcome to live, work and enjoy our beautiful state of Arizona,” Mr. McCain said.
However, Cathi Herrod of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy called it “truly a disappointing day in our state and nation when lies and personal attacks can overshadow the truth.”
“The religious beliefs of all Arizonans must be respected, and this bill did nothing more than affirm that,” Ms. Herrod said.
Ms. Brewer defended her record on religious liberty. “I have protected religious freedoms when there is a specific and present concern that exists in our state, and I have the record to prove it,” she said.
Religious business owners, such as bakeries and photographers, who decline to participate in same-sex weddings have been sued successfully in several states, but she noted that Arizona is not among them.
“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” said Ms. Brewer. “I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated. The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”
The Republican governor announced her decision amid a national outcry against Senate Bill 1062, led by gay-rights leaders who said the bill essentially legalized discrimination against homosexuals.