The Arizona state Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill yesterday that will allow businesses to refuse to serve gay people based on “sincerely held” religious beliefs. Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Yarbrough had proposed an earlier draft of the bill last month, which has sparked debate throughout the state. Yarbough said he is simply trying to protect the “religious freedom” of private business owners that included Christian bakers and florists, but liberals have argued that he is essentially putting bigotry into law with the bill.
Similar laws have been proposed in Idaho, Kansas, Tennessee and South Dakota. But after facing intense pushback on the proposed laws, all of the states except South Dakota have either withdrawn or backtracked on their plans to move forward. “Our opponents have lost the argument about gay people, they’ve lost the argument about marriage,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. all they have left is distractions, diversions, and desperate attempts to carve out the license to discriminate as they have tried in every other civil rights chapter in our nation’s history.”
Last month, an Oregon couple who refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple were found guilty of violating the women’s rights and now face thousands of dollars in fines. Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, were subject to a state investigation after refusing to serve Portland residents Rachel Cryer and Laurel Bowman for their big day. The state investigation determined that the Kleins had discriminated against the women because the state policy is that businesses may not deny service to customers because of sexual orientation. Ironically, Oregon doesn’t even permit gay marriage.
The Kleins will now participate in settlement talks with Cryer and Bowman in order to avoid the state pressing discrimination changes in an administrative law court. However, the business owners say that baking a cake for the couple is not on the table due to their religious beliefs. “We will stand by what we believe from the beginning,” said Aaron. “I’m not sure what the future holds, but as far as where we’re at now … it’s almost as if the state is hostile towards Christian businesses.”