Arizona's state legislature has passed a controversial bill that would allow the state's business owners to refuse services to people based on religious beliefs.
The legislation, officially titled the "exercise of religion" bill, passed the state's Republican-led Senate and House without a single vote from a Democrat, who are calling the measure "state-sanctioned discrimination" and an embarrassment. (Via KTVK)
Drawing national attention, the bill is receiving backlash in particular from LGBTQ supporters who say the measure is designed to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
The Arizona Republic explains: "it could ... protect a corporation that refused to hire anyone who wasn't Christian and could block members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community from access to nearly any business or service."
Proponents of the bill, however, argue it simply adds to existing state-religious freedom laws and ensures individuals and businesses are not forced to do something that goes against their beliefs. (Via KPHO)
It's also backed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group opposing same-sex marriage and abortion, who says the measure's needed to protect religious freedom against increasingly activist federal courts.
Last June, the Supreme Court struck down major parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling the federal government cannot refuse to recognize same-sex marriages in states where it's legal. (Via CNN)
NBC's Pete Williams reports since then, major legal battles "are now pending in all but eight of the 33 states that forbid gay couples to marry."
But, religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Kansas, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed.
Republicans in Arizona call the situation a First Amendment issue, but opponents argue it's unconstitutional, violating equal protection under law, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. (Via KNXV)
Arizona's Governor Jan Brewer has five days to either sign, veto or let the bill die on her desk. She vetoed a similar measure last year, and has not has not made it clear if she would support this plan.