- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A proposed law awaiting action by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has galvanized the state’s business community and gay rights activists nationwide.

Opponents argue the bill is designed to allow businesses to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. Proponents say it is designed to give businesses the right to refuse to participate in gay marriages and other activities that run afoul of their religious beliefs. Here are the basics of the law:


The bill is an update of the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has been in place since 1999. Many states have these laws, and Arizona’s mirrors a similar federal law of the same name, which was adopted in 1993.


The act already protects churches and religiously observant citizens from laws that substantially burden their exercise of religion unless there is no less intrusive manner to meet the government interest. The proposal would expand the law to protect against discrimination lawsuits any individual, association or corporation whose actions are based on sincerely held religious beliefs.


Some states, including Oregon and New Mexico, have extended the definition of “protected classes” in their laws to include lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons. Protected classes under the federal law include sex, race, national origin or religion. Those expanded laws have been used to sue small businesses whose owners refused to provide services at gay marriages. In New Mexico, a photographer was sued; In Oregon, a baker who refused to do a couple’s wedding cake.


Opponents say the Arizona law is so broadly written that it could allow bartenders, innkeepers and practically any business to use it as a shield to refuse service to people whose lifestyle they disagree with. And, they note, Arizona has not extended protected class status to gays. So they argue it opens the door to discrimination.

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