Editorial: Arizona’s brush with bias

Last modified: Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is getting pats on the back for vetoing the so-called “free exercise of religion” bill — an attempt, shrouded in faith, to legalize discrimination. But the praise is barely warranted.

We think a cool appraisal of forces behind Brewer’s veto reveals that cash and the 2014 and 2016 elections won out. Her rejection of this measure should have been grounded instead on the steadfast need to protect civil rights.

Up until Wednesday, Brewer was telling reporters she was in no rush to act on Bill 1062, which needed her signature by Saturday. In many states, a statement like this would indicate a governor’s intention to let legislation die on the desk — a pocket veto that kicks in when time expires. But in Arizona there is no such rule. Brewer’s inaction would have made the bill law. What changed for Brewer in the six days after Feb. 20, when Arizona lawmakers passed the bill and sent it to her office?

Political pressure mounted, some of it from the same Republican senators who drafted and supported the bill. And fears grew about the economic drubbing the state could suffer if the bill became law. Representatives of he Marriott hotel chain, Apple and American Airlines called for the bill to be scrapped. The NFL, which is slated to hold the 2015 Super Bowl in Arizona, put out a statement Tuesday saying it is “following the [Arizona] issue,” adding that the league’s policies prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The NFL wasn’t bluffing. It wasn’t long ago that the league canceled an Arizona Super Bowl on moral grounds, because the state’s legislature failed to create a holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Shortly after the NFL’s decision, Arizona approved a holiday for the civil rights leader. The Super Bowl pumps millions of dollars into host and surrounding communities.

Arizona’s odious bill allowing businesses to discriminate against homosexuals wasn’t drafted in a vacuum. Despite the equality generally accorded gay people in the Valley, there are places in the U.S. and across the globe in which it is extremely dangerous to be out. Russia has its anti-gay propaganda laws. And last week, Uganda toughened its anti-gay laws by establishing potential life sentences in prison for “aggravated homosexuality.” In Iran, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, a person can be put to death for being gay.

In Wisconsin, the attorney general is fighting a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. Texas, Utah and Oklahoma are appealing similar rulings. In 2012, a federal judge in Nevada upheld the state’s law barring people of the same sex from marrying.

Supporters of discrimination based on sexual orientation often cite the Bible to condone their actions. It’s skewed logic. There are 10 or so instances in which the Bible addresses homosexuality, but there are hundreds that dictate tolerance and treating others as you would want to be treated. In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni said science proves sexuality is a choice that can be unlearned.

This is hatred hiding behind religion and science.

Gay rights aren’t the only rights affected by gross misrepresentation of religion and science. Sadly, many claim to be fighting for their freedoms by restricting yours. To wit: the contraception mandate in the Affordable Heath Care Act is going before the Supreme Court. A push is on to teach creationism in public schools. Efforts continue to restrict access to abortion. And proposed laws would bar judges from considering Muslim practices in trials.

But there is hope. To quote King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” In the U.S. it is becoming safer to be out and gay. Twenty-one states have legislation that specifically bars discrimination based on sexual orientation. And slowly but surely, same-sex marriage is becoming a reality across the nation.