Discrimination is not only morally wrong, it's bad for business and for tourism, says Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton -- and so he's calling on Arizona governor Jan Brewer to veto the controversial bill passed by both houses of the state legislature this week.
"It would put a national and international spotlight on Arizona in a way that's uphelpful to our economy," Stanton tells The Advocate regarding the legislation, which would allow businesses and individuals to refuse to serve LGBT patrons and certain other groups of people, if the refusal is rooted in religious faith. "It's the wrong direction to go."
Such bills have been proposed in state legislatures around the nation, partly due to legal complaints about businesses refusing to provide services for same-sex weddings. Arizona, however, is poised to be the first state to adopt one. The State Senate approved the measure Wednesday and the House Thursday, and Brewer has the option of signing it, vetoing it, or letting it become law without her signature. She said yesterday that she will decide by the end of next week, according to The Arizona Republic.
Brewer has been out of state, attending a governors' conference in Washington, D.C., but activists on both sides of the issue have begun lobbying her staff and bombarding her Twitter page, the Republic notes. There protests yesterday against the bill in Phoenix and Tucson, each attended by more than 200 people.
Business groups, such as the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, have warned that such a law would have negative economic effects, and that's an argument Stanton makes as well. It would discourage tourism and also discourage businesses from locating in Arizona, he says. Tourism is a major aspect of sunny and scenic Arizona's economy, and stands to be even more so with the state hosting the Super Bowl next year.
Stanton notes that while Arizona is considered a conservative state, Phoenix, the state's capital and largest city, has very progressive policies where LGBT people and other minorities are concerned. "The city I lead is a very open city, and we love our diversity," he says. It also has very strong antidiscrimination ordinances, earning it a perfect score in the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index. And the pending bill would give legal cover to those who would ignore the ordinances in the name of religion, he points out.
There's a great likelihood of the legislation being challenged in court by civil rights groups. "If the bill becomes law, I expect a suit to be filed within an hour or two," Stanton says. But he is optimistic that Brewer will veto it. "There is bipartisan opposition to this bill," he says. (He's a Democrat, the governor a Republican.)
Brewer vetoed similar legislation last year, but at that time, she had pledged not to sign any bill until state lawmakers had settled on a budget and a plan for Medicaid expansion. Some political observers say it's hard to tell which way she will go this time. "I don't think anybody knows whether she will veto it or sign it into law," pollster Bruce Merrill told the Republic. "She is an enigma."
On a lighter note, the owner of Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson has offered an unusual response to the bill via Twitter. "As a longtime employer and feeder of the gay community, Rocco's reserves the right to eject any State Senators we see fit to kick out," Rocco DiGrazia tweeted Thursday, NBC News reports. The pizza shop subsequently received about 500 calls in support of its position, and just one from a customer who said she'd never eat there again.