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Arizona Senate Passes Bill Allowing Discrimination On Basis Of Religious Freedom

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The Republican-controlled Arizona state Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 1062, a measure that would allow businesses to reject service to any customer based on the owners’ religious beliefs.

The bill reads:

"Exercise of religion" means the PRACTICE OR OBSERVANCE OF RELIGION, INCLUDING THE ability to act or refusal to act in a manner substantially motivated by a religious belief whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.

Arizona Democrats, who argue the legislation is a way to legalize discrimination against LGBT individuals, sponsored eight amendments in an attempt to thwart the legislation -- all of which were rejected by Senate Republicans.

"SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom," state Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar said in a statement Wednesday. "With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability."

As testament to the bill’s mission, state Sen. Steve Yarbrough (R), one of three lawmakers sponsoring the bill, cited a 2013 New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that banned wedding photographers from refusing to shoot same-sex ceremonies, according to the Associated Press.

"This bill is not about allowing discrimination," Yarbrough said during a nearly two-hour debate on Wednesday. "This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."

Arizona Sen. Steve Farley (D), another opponent of the controversial bill, said the legislation could have a negative economic impact if it became law.

"I think this bill makes a statement ... that we don't welcome people here," Farley said. "This bill gets in the way, this bill sends the wrong message around the country and around the world."

“I believe our economy is strengthened by different people, and different backgrounds, and different beliefs, and different motivations, coming in and working together in our economy to make this state and this country stronger," he also said. "Discrimination hurts that. It hurts that in so many different ways."

Similar religious liberty bills, which have popped up in response to a series of federal court rulings overturning same-sex marriage bans, were recently quashed in Idaho, Kansas, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Arizona’s SB 1062 now heads to the Republican-majority state House, where it is expected to pass.

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