WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down an anti-gay proposal in Arizona if it ever becomes law and called Wednesday on the state’s governor to “make the right decision” and veto it.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was weighing whether to approve or veto a law that would protect people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays. In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked on the MSNBC network about whether the bill undermines U.S. criticism of a new law in Uganda that punishes gay sex with up to life in prison.
Kerry said hoped Brewer would veto the proposal by a Saturday deadline.
“I’m counting on the governor,” Kerry said. “I cannot imagine how that law would withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of the United States. So I would hope that, you know, she’ll make the right decision.”
The former Democratic presidential nominee and Massachusetts senator said recognition of gay rights has not had an easy path in the U.S., but he said enormous progress has been made and that America would stand up for gay rights worldwide.
Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in several states, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed. It has ignited a media firestorm, bringing new scrutiny to a state already known for its tough stance on immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Business leaders are concerned that the law would embarrass the state and hurt its tourism industry.
Brewer was holding a series of private meetings Wednesday with opponents and proponents of the legislation as business groups, gay rights supporters and even fellow Republicans urged her to use her veto power. There is widespread speculation that Brewer will veto the bill, but she has not said how she’ll act.
Three Republican state senators who voted for the law reversed course Monday and called for the governor to veto it. In a letter to Brewer, they said the proposal had been distorted by inaccurate perceptions. Though their intent, they wrote, “was to create a shield for all citizens’ religious liberties, the bill has been mischaracterized by its opponents as a sword for religious intolerance.”
The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defence in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. Supporters call the bill a slight tweak to the state’s existing religious freedom law, which does not extend protections to people based on their views on sexual orientation.
Proponents frequently cite the case of a photographer in neighbouring New Mexico who was sued after refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple and said Arizona needs a law to protect people from heavy-handed actions by federal courts.
Democrats say the legislation is an outright attack on the rights of gays and lesbians that will hurt the state’s economy because businesses and tourists will avoid Arizona like they did after the passage of a 2010 law that cracked down on immigration.
Opponents also say the law would be a major distraction as Arizona prepares to host next year’s Super Bowl, the National Football League’s championship game that is the most-watched event on American television.
Some business leaders fear the NFL could even move the Super bowl out of Arizona if the law passes. That has happened only once before in 1993, after Arizona rescinded Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.
With the business community lining up against the proposal, Brewer could be hard-pressed to sign it into law. She has worked hard to return Arizona’s economy to pre-recession levels with business-friendly incentives and tax cuts.
Among the businesses urging a veto are Apple Inc., which is opening a manufacturing plant in Mesa, American Airlines, Marriott and GoDaddy.
Republican Arizona Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are also calling for a veto.