Arizona has become a cradle of controversial laws!
Arizona once again became center of attention this week when on Thursday Arizona Legislature passed a law that gives business owners the right to refuse service to gays and others, if they claim to doing so in the name of religion. The SB1062 bill passed the Arizona House with a 33-to-27 vote and consequently was sent to Gov. Jan Brewer to be signed into law. At this point, it is unclear how Governor Brewer is going to handle the legislation, although she had vetoed a similar law last year. This bill brings to mind several cases we have heard about in the past, such as the florist who would not provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. SB1062 raises debates on the First Amendment rights by both sides, and it comes at an interesting time considering that both Arizona senators unexpectedly voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the U.S. Senate.
Arizona is known to be a conservative state and it is not surprising when, for example, they do not support gay marriage. However, in this case it all boils down to debates on First Amendment rights and whether or not government should interfere on regulating businesses. On one hand we have those who are against laws such as SB1062 and believe that government should interfere to stop discrimination. The most common examples of successful government interference that people use are laws that prevent racial discrimination. The argument is that the First Amendment grants everyone the same rights and government should make sure that people are treated equally. On the other hand, we have those who support this law with the argument that the First Amendment offers everyone the freedom of religion and people should be free to practice it in the way they want. Government, according to them, should let people and business owners to do what they wish. However, this argument is vague considering the fact that freedom in a democracy comes with restrictions and compromise. Laws are created to insure such equality. Similar issues in the past have initiated hot debates and we have seen several Supreme Court cases that deal with these debates. In this case it is a question of where do we draw the line between fundamental rights and government interference to prevent discrimination. I think that it is safe to say that if this bill is signed into law, we can expect it to soon end up in the Supreme Court.
Permitting business owners to refuse service to gays and others just heats the debate on ENDA, a debate that has been going on in the U.S. Congress for years now. There are some core similarities between SB1062 and ENDA. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is a legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The ENDA bill passed in the U.S. Senate this past November, and both Arizona senators, Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake, surprised most people by voting for this bill, even though during their campaigns they had promised not to support it. It is interesting that similar bills are voted differently in the state level and the federal level. It would be interesting to have public opinion polls in order to see how people in general feel about these bills. Controversial issues such as gay marriage and gay rights often times determine the success or failure of a political candidate. Since gay marriage and SB1062 and ENDA deal with slightly different issues, a public opinion poll tailored only for these two bills would show more accurate results on where Arizona people stand. Depending on the results we could even predict future election results. Either way, Governor Brewer’s decision is going to be the center of attention for the days to come.