The last gasp of the Religious Right.
That’s what SB 1062 is, isn’t it?
Younger Americans have a much more tolerant attitude towards gays. Courts have repeatedly struck down anti-gay laws on the basis of the Equal Protection Clause found in the 14th Amendment. Some states have legalized gay marriage. The Feds are no longer enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is history.
But the Religious Right holds on desperately. Led by one woman, the unusually powerful Kathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy, the cherry-picking religionists pushed a bill that, according to the summary of the bill sent to the Governor, does the following:
• Expands the definition of exercise of religion by including the practice and observance of religion.
• Expands the definition of person to include any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, or other business entity.
• Modifies, from government to state action, the prohibition on burdening a person’s exercise of religion, except under certain circumstances.
• Clarifies that the government or a nongovernmental person enforcing state action must demonstrate that the application of the burden to the person’s exercise of religion is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.
• Maintains that a person whose religious exercise is burdened in violation of this Act may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and specifies that this applies regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceeding.
• Stipulates that a person that asserts a violation of this Act must establish the following: The person’s action or refusal to act is motivated by a religious belief, the person’s religious belief is sincerely held, and the state action substantially burdens the exercise of the person’s religious beliefs.
• Allows a person asserting a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, whose religious exercise is burdened, to receive injunctive and declaratory relief.
Defenders of the bill, like Gilbert’s Eddie Farnsworth and Fountain Hills' John Kavanagh, say this bill only tweaks the existing law.
But the devil is in the details. So when Cathi Herrod appeared on CNN and was asked if a restaurant owner could deny a gay couple a table, Herrod avoided the question, repeating “Read the bill.”
Which, I guess, could be taken as “Yes, an owner could deny service to a gay couple.”
Or an unmarried mom. Or a Muslim, if the church the owner worshipped or taught that, as some on the right like to say, that Islam is a rogue religion. Or someone who's divorced.
Of course, a Muslim cab driver could deny an unaccompanied woman a ride in his cab because it is against his religion’s teachings.
Who would decide this?
Not SB 1062, since its language is broad. No, this bill would lead to case-by-case haggling over what is “sincere” and what “substantially burdens” means.
No. Once again the legislature’s passed a bill that really is a Lawyer Full Employment Act. Like a number of business types — and many in Arizona’s Congressional delegation — acknowledge, a bill like this would lead to all kinds of business havoc, including the Governor’s "Arizona is open for business," morphing into "Arizona is open for business, except for, uh, you guys and gals."
And once again, the legislature ensures that Arizona resembles a 21st Century haven for Jim Crow laws.
That the Governor hasn’t already vetoed SB 1062 is almost surprising. She could’ve made a bold and positive statement about the state of our state by vetoing the bill last Friday night, when the bill first came to her desk.
Instead, she’s “studying” the bill and may not act until late this week, the deadline for her approval or veto.
By dithering, she gives the bill some credibility, as if she needs to study an unnecessary, divisive and discriminatory act like it had some merits. And giving the rest of the country more fodder for criticism.
But beyond the Amen Choir of the Right, there’s not much support for the bill.
The Herrod’s, Farnsworth’s and Kavangah’s of this state are fast becoming the dinosaurs of our culture. And, like those creatures of the past, the extinction of the their attitudes is inevitable. And welcome.
• Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.