Arizona gay rights bill would offer protections for religious freedom

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers, business leaders, pastors and gay rights advocates gathered at the Arizona Capitol on Monday to push for passage of a new LGBTQ rights bill which would also protect places of worship and other religious institutions.

“It’s not about special treatment; it is a matter of equal treatment and opportunities for all. No one should live in fear…simply for who they are or who they love,” State Rep. Amish Shah, a Democrat who is the bill’s lead sponsor, said at the press conference. Monday.

Republican House Speaker Rusty Bowers, who is a co-sponsor, described the legislation as a chance to choose unity and understanding over conflict and anger.

“I am grateful for the opportunity, as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 14:13, not to place a stumbling block before my brother. For too long we have clung to opinions and thoughts that clash with each other,” he said.

The “Equality and Fairness for All Arizonans” bill would update state civil rights law to prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. This would leave existing religious freedom protections in place, but would not create new protections for owners of religious businesses, such as wedding cake bakers. It would also prevent licensed medical professionals from participating in talk therapy.

Several speakers at Monday’s press conference pointed out that while the bill covers many areas of public life, it does not address some of the most burning issues related to LGBTQ rights. For example, it would not resolve debates about transgender athletes.

“This bill is not a panacea. This does not solve all the problems. … But it’s an important step in the right direction,” said state Rep. Daniel Hernandez, who is a Democrat.

He and others noted that the proposed legislation grew out of years of dialogue between faith leaders, business owners and members of the LGBTQ community who sought to strengthen Arizona’s non-discrimination laws without limit the free exercise of religion.

The group was inspired by recent city-wide efforts to protect gay rights in Mesa, Glendale and Scottsdale.

“The adoption of our ordinance has strengthened Mesa as a community. It made people feel safe and welcome. It opened a door to help us attract and attract talent (and) big events,” said John Giles, Republican Mayor of Mesa.

Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona, speaks at a news conference February 7 on the proposed ‘Equality and Fairness for All Arizonans’ bill.
Screenshot of Facebook live stream

The new bill also has a lot in common with the federal “Fairness for All” law, which is currently awaiting action in the US House, as well as a Utah law protecting gay, lesbian and transgender residents. against discrimination in housing and employment. This law, known as the Utah Compromise, was passed in 2015.

The leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have already come out in favor of these two measures. On Monday, they released a statement in support of Arizona’s new bill.

“The church is pleased to be part of a coalition of religious, business, LGBTQ people and community leaders who have worked together in a spirit of trust and mutual respect to address issues that matter to all members. of our community. Our position is that this bipartisan bill preserves the religious rights of individuals and faith communities while protecting the rights of members of the LGBTQ community, consistent with principles of fairness for all,” the statement read.

Proponents of Utah’s approach to balancing gay rights and religious freedom have long urged other states to follow its lead. However, compromise efforts have been complicated by growing partisan disputes, as well as the interest of some policymakers in waiting for the Supreme Court to offer guidance on how states should proceed.

In a series of recent cases involving religious freedom laws and discrimination claims, the court has emphasized the importance of allowing people of faith to live according to their beliefs. But the judges also called for respect for members of the LGBTQ community and declined to say definitively that religious freedom trumps LGBTQ rights.

The Supreme Court “left the door open for a more nuanced discussion,” Robin Maril, a visiting assistant professor of law at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, told the Deseret News last year.

At Monday’s press conference, Bowers said not everyone in the Arizona legislature or in his own party would view the bill’s problems the same way he did. He pointed out that the road to passage could be bumpy and declined to tell reporters whether the legislation currently enjoys majority support.

“I don’t anticipate a path strewn with roses in front of me. But we are here honorably and working together,” he said.

But he and other speakers said they remained optimistic. They are eager to help people understand how the bill could strengthen the state.

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