Op-ed: Don't Let Arizona Set a Bad Example
"We must recognize the full human equality of all of our people — before God, before the law, and in the councils of government. We must do this, not because it is economically advantageous, although it is; not because the laws of God command it, although they do; not because people in other lands wish it so. We must do it for the single and fundamental reason that it is the right thing to do." — Robert F. Kennedy
On Thursday, the Arizona State House of Representatives narrowly passed (33-27) Senate Bill 1062. With its passage through the House, the bill now goes to the desk of Arizona governor Jan Brewer to be signed into law or stamped with her veto.
SB 1062 is at its core state-sanctioned discrimination thinly veiled under the guise of religious freedom. This legislation is blatantly homophobic; even its proponents are hard-pressed to answer when asked why this bill was necessary. The bill would give individuals, businesses, corporations, and nonprofits the right to refuse service to any unprotected group, citing deeply held religious beliefs. These provisions of the bill serve one purpose — to attack the already limited rights of LGBTQ Arizonans.
At the beginning of the 2014 legislative session, Republican governor Jan Brewer, in her State of the State address, spoke emphatically of an “Arizona comeback.” Sadly, the comeback was short-lived. Just over a month into the session, the extremist Tea Party legislature, posturing for conservative votes, rammed this bill through both chambers.
We are at a fundamentally different place in 2014 than we were as a society in 2004. Merely 10 years ago attacks on the LGBTQ community were used as a wedge issue by then-President George W. Bush to win reelection. But today we see an America that is vastly different. Within four days of the bill’s passage dozens of high-profile business groups, including the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, have called for a veto; over 10,000 communications have been sent to the governor; and a broad and growing spectrum of politicians and three state senators who voted for the bill are demanding a veto.
It was not all that long ago that Governor Brewer signed another highly damaging bill, SB 1070, also known as the “Papers, Please” law. SB 1070 shone a harsh and negative light on Arizona. It made the state a frequent punch line on late-night television but, more importantly, made it a target for boycotts. There were widespread calls for boycott of the state from both governments and businesses. There are still those who refuse to visit Arizona even though most of the law was struck down by the Supreme Court.
The economic impact ranged from canceled conventions and concerts to people moving from Arizona and taking their business and tax dollars elsewhere. Businesses including Google and Apple are looking at Arizona and weighing whether to invest here. Bills like SB 1062 not only serve to discourage businesses from investing in Arizona but also make us seem more like the Jim Crow South than a forward-leaning place that could be a haven for business and entertainment.
The consequences of this bill don’t stop at Arizona’s borders. Just this week Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has signed a bill that would subject those found guilty of “multiple same-sex relations” to life imprisonment. And his spokesperson cited Arizona in a tweet defending his country’s new law. He said, “What is [President] Obama saying to Arizona state law just passed to deny gays services on religious grounds.” Persecution of LGBTQ people is something that we expect to come from totalitarian regimes in countries like Russia and Uganda, not Arizona.
As two openly gay elected officials in this state, we know that we have a heavy weight on our shoulders. We represent not only our constituents but all LGBTQ Arizonans, from teenagers who are struggling to come to terms with their sexuality to LGBTQ seniors who can remember days before the Civil Rights Act.
While we have celebrated victories nationally on issues such as equal marriage and the repeal of "don’t ask, don’t tell," SB 1062 serves as a stark reminder that there is still much left to do. This moment is a wake-up call for all Americans that until we have enshrined full and equal protections and rights for all at the federal level, we unfortunately will have extremist state legislatures legalizing bigotry.
We urge Governor Brewer to veto SB 1062 — and to work with the LGBTQ community in Arizona so we can ensure that this state gets the comeback it deserves.
Daniel Hernandez Jr. is a school board member in the Sunnyside Unified School District, a former member of the city of Tucson’s LGBTQ Issues Commission, and the former intern credited with saving the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on January 8, 2011.
Demion Clinco is the state representative for Arizona’s 2nd Legislative District and serves as president of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation.