Notebook: Arizona’s Test

DEBORAH JONES: FREE RANGE

Published March 1, 2014

To this outsider’s ear, politics in America have become increasingly polarized, harsh and discordant. Then, every so often, a clear note carries through the din. Last fall it was the clarion call from Barry Black, chaplain to the United States Senate: “Save us From the Madness!” he cried, during the government shut-down. This week that note sounded in Arizona, where Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed legislation passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives and Senate.

Bill 1062, drafted amid a global furor over Russia’s anti-gay laws and ongoing American debates over same-sex marriage, had become worldwide news. It would have given business owners the right to refuse service on religious grounds. Critics said the bill would open the door to human rights abuses. While debate focused on whether religious people should have the right to deny service to gay customers, it also raised the specter of earlier bans on African Americans and the possibilities of vague future bans, all based not on the rule of law but on the religion of men. A Wall Street Journal report called it a “test case” in America’s “widening clash over religious freedom and discrimination.”

Had Bill 1062 become law it would have been a stunning turn for the United States, a country forged by a revolution, a civil war, and a civil rights movement; a country that styles itself as the “leader of the free world.”

But Janice Brewer not only vetoed the bill, she smothered it — with  incredulity. The tone of her announcement suggests that the Republican governor was as appalled by it as were the chiefs of multinational corporations, heads of major American sports franchises, and the many moderate politicians, who vigorously opposed it. Brewer called the debate “ugly.” She said the bill “has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve (and) could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want.” She said while religious liberty is a core value, “so is nondiscrimination.”

Progressives greeted her announcement — both what she did say and what she refrained from saying — as salve for a fractured politic. “In an otherwise foreboding political landscape, it’s a blazing sunrise,” exulted a New Yorker writer.

But there is a stark reality that the celebrants of Brewer’s announcement are ignoring. That reality is that a majority of lawmakers in Arizona supported the bill — and a majority of Arizona’s citizens voted those lawmakers into office. The reality is that bill had a large base of support.

One battle over one bill is over, but the cacophony of America’s culture war will continue. At least this week, though, Jan Brewer’s clear note reverberates.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2014

Here is the full text of Brewer’s announcement at a press conference:

I am here to announce my decision on Senate Bill 1062.

As with every proposal that reaches my desk, I gave Senate Bill 1062 careful evaluation and deliberate consideration. I call them like I see them, despite the cheers or boos from the crowd.

I took the time necessary to make the RIGHT decision. I met or spoke with my attorneys, lawmakers and citizens supporting and opposing this legislation. I listened . . . and asked questions. As Governor, I have protected religious freedoms when there is a specific and present concern that exists in OUR state.

And I have the record to prove it.

My agenda is to sign into law legislation that advances Arizona. When I addressed the Legislature earlier this year, I made my priorities for this session abundantly clear…

Among them are passing a responsible budget that continues Arizona’s economic Comeback.

From CEOs to entrepreneurs to business surveys Arizona ranks as one the best states to grow or start a business. Additionally, our IMMEDIATE challenge is fixing a broken Child Protection system. Instead, this is the first policy bill to cross my desk.

Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.

The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences. After weighing all of the arguments, I vetoed Senate Bill 1062 moments ago.

To the supporters of the legislation, I want you to know that I understand that long held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before.

Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However, I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want. Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value, so is nondiscrimination.

Going forward, let’s turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate Bill 1062 into a renewed search for greater respect and understanding among ALL Arizonans and Americans.

Thank you.

Further reading:
Arizona governor vetoes bill widely criticized as anti-gay: Reuters report on the veto.
Jan Brewer: “So Is Nondiscrimination”: The New Yorker