Controversial religion bill heads to Gov. Brewer's desk - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Controversial religion bill heads to Gov. Brewer's desk

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Reaction to the SB 1026 has been loud and swift.

It has put Arizona back in the national spotlight, in the national headlines again much as SB 1070, the controversial immigration law, did in 2010.  

This time it's a question of individual rights and religious freedom not immigration.

The bill has not been sent to Governor Jan Brewer yet and she has said she will not comment on the bill at this time. 

Late Thursday afternoon the Arizona House gave final approval to a bill that protects business owners who refuse to serve a gay or lesbian customer for religious reasons.

Critics say it's a license to discriminate and will hurt the state's economy as the state suffers a backlash.

Both supporters and opponents are passionate about the issue.

Rocco's Pizzeria on East Broadway posted a sign saying it "reserved the right to refuse service to state lawmakers."

The move has garnered the pizza place national attention.

Phone calls have come "from all over the world, England, Canada and all over the United States," says owner Rocco DiGrazia.

National outlets have posted his story.

One of his customers today was District 9 State Legislator Ethan Orr, one of three Republicans who voted against the bill."

"I think there will be people in the Republican Party who will understand what I was doing was protecting individual rights, pro9tecing liberty and people's right for commerce," he told us.

Although he admits there's been some backlash for his vote.

"There's people who are upset with this vote but I think the Republican Party is bigger that a single issue or a single vote," he says.

He was served by the way.

The one particular group that many believe is the target of the bill is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

The measure passed the House, 33-27, with no Democratic support but three Republicans crossed the aisle. It was HB 2153.

Democrats and other groups are urging the governor not to sign it.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a statement says "bill like SB 1062 would take out state backwards to a time when discrimination was the norm."

He says "I urge the governor in the strongest terms to veto this legislation, and I urge Tucsonans to contact her with that request as well."

Rothschild said he has worked in Mexico to "undo the damage done by SB 1070."

With the Super Bowl coming to Arizona next year, there is concern about a backlash.

"I generally hope that is not the case but the first couple of days are leading us to believe that," Orr says.

The bills come in the wake of a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that a gay couple could sue a photographer who refused, based on religious beliefs, to take pictures at their wedding.

Supporters of the Arizona bill say it's necessary to prevent discrimination against people who have certain religious beliefs.

The director of Wingspan, an LGBT community center in Tucson, disagrees with that assessment.

"I don't think this is reverse discrimination at all. I think this is really about a group of people, led by Senator Yarbrough, who are wanting to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. No one is not allowing these individuals to practice their religion at all," says Wingspan Executive Director Carol Grimsby.

She says, "Everyone has a right to participate, to just simply go into a business to shop and be treated appropriately, to be treated with humanity, compassion, but also to be treated equally."

Senator Yarbrough is Chandler Republican Steve Yarbrough who sponsored the bill.

Tucson businessman, Kelly Copeland, supports the bill.

He says he has done business with gay individuals and will again.

Copeland says the problem, as he sees it, is government and courts intruding into the marketplace and also eroding religious liberties of those who have deeply held religious beliefs.

Those people "want to be in the marketplace and they want to serve in the marketplace, but who they serve and what they sell and how they sell it and who they sell it to is being determined by the government. And that is not the way capitalism is set up. It's not the way the marketplace works," Copeland says. "That's not the way the business world works."

The bill's backers say this is matter of religious liberty and even free speech.

We asked Tucson attorney Stacy Scheff about that.

She says if the bill becomes law, any possible lawsuits against it might be brought on other grounds, such as the ability of a person to access the same services as everyone else.

"The history of civil rights litigation and interpretation has shown a pattern where the courts want to give everyone the ability to access the same services as everyone else. And so I believe that the courts may find some other reason, other than freedom of speech or freedom of religion, to say that they can't tell people based on sexual orientation that they can't access particular services...that it's unreasonable to burden a particular group of people that way," Scheff says.

Governor Jan Brewer has not given any indication whether she will sign the bill.

To see the final version of the bill and learn more about it, click here.

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