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AZ gov vetoes 'religious freedom' bill, Ohio lawmakers abandon kindred bill

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About six hours before Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer made the right decision Wednesday for her state, by vetoing SB 1062, the so-called "religious freedom" bill that promised to exact serious economic repercussions had it become law, two Ohio lawmakers took heed of what happened out west and said there would be no further consideration of HB 376 in the Buckeye State.

The bill Gov. Brewer vetoed would have allowed businesses that asserted their religious beliefs the right to deny service to gay and lesbian customers. But while that issue became the focus of news coverage, opponents of the bill, including business and business groups, and other voices said signing the bill would allow anyone to discriminate against anyone on virtually any grounds by claiming they were exercising their freedom of religion.

Included in her statement, Gov. Brewer said not only does Senate Bill 1062 not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona, she said she has not heard of "one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated."

Ohio State Reps. Tim Derickson (R-Oxford) and Bill Patmon (D-Cleveland) released a statement on HB 376 mid-afternoon Wednesday that didn't equivocate about whether they would push for their bill in light of today's activity in Arizona.

"The intent of House Bill 376 was to ensure Ohioans’ religious freedom by protecting their ability to freely worship and preventing any laws from burdening the free exercise of religion," the two legislators said in a joint release. In light of the the controversy occurring in Arizona, "we feel that it is in the best interest of Ohioans that there be no further consideration of this legislation."

Brewer cited one reason for her veto—the "broadly worded" would have "unintended and negative consequences—and said she had weighed the arguments on both sides before vetoing SB 1062.

She told supporters of the legislation that she understood the long-held norms about marriage and family that are being challenged as never before. "Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes," she said, "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."

Derickson and Patmon backed off their bill, saying that while protecting people’s liberties—religious or otherwise—is important to House members, they did not want to pass a law that would in any way be misconstrued to be discriminatory. "

Although the bill stemmed from a well-meaning place, we do not want to allow any room for confusion on this important issue," the lawmakers said. "Discrimination of any kind was never the intent of this legislation. While our commitment to religious freedom remains constant, it is in the best interest of all Ohioans that no further consideration be given to House Bill 376."

An attorney representing the Alliance Defending Freedom, which helped craft the bill, criticized the governor's decision to CNN. "Freedom loses when fear overwhelms facts and a good bill is vetoed," Doug Napier said in a statement. "Today's veto enables the foes of faith to more easily suppress the freedom of the people of Arizona."

Not surprisingly, Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, had an opposing view. "Discrimination has no place in Arizona, or anywhere else," she said. "We're grateful that the governor has stopped this disgraceful law from taking effect, and that Arizona will remain open for business to everyone."

According to an analysis of HB376 by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, it "would prohibit state action or an action by any person based on state action from burdening a person's right to exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability, unless it is demonstrated that applying that burden is both essential to further a compelling governmental interest and the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest. Authorizes a person whose exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened in violation of the above prohibition to assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision is a party to the proceeding."

In Arizona, the fiscal impact was made all too clear to Gov. Bewer by a host of businesses and business groups. In Ohio, the fiscal notes for HB 376 seemed tame give the murky language about the costs attributed to it.

"The bill may increase the amount of money expended by the state and its political subdivisions to litigate and settle certain civil matters involving governmental action, as it provides an additional basis on which a person can assert a right to exercise religion and obtain appropriate relief," LSC noted. "The timing and the magnitude of any such expenditure increases would be contingent upon the behavior of private parties and governmental entities in the future, and are uncertain."

Among the businesses that cautioned Gov. Brewer to veto the bill were American Airlines, AT&T, Delta Airlines, Intel, Marriott, PetSmart, Starwood, Apple and Yelp. Collectively they warned that not vetoing the bill would be "bad for the state's reputation and bad for business -- repelling tourists, potential employees and current workers who live in the state," according to published reports.

A big driver against the bill was concern over whether next year's Super Bowl would still take place in Arizona. The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee said it did not support the legislation.

"We share the NFL's core values which embrace tolerance, diversity, inclusiveness and prohibit discrimination," the committee said in a statement, CNN reported. "We have heard loud and clear from our various stakeholders that adoption of this legislation would not only run contrary to that goal but deal a significant blow to the state's economic growth potential."

In separate news today, a federal judge in Texas ruled a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. The ruling was the sixth federal judge in a row to rule marriage discrimination unconstitutional since the U.S. Supreme Court said the federal government must recognize existing legal same-sex marriages.

Previously in Ohio, U.S. District Judge Timothy S. Black ruled that the state did not have the right to not recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Judge Black said that, under the Constitution of the United States, "Ohio must recognize valid out-of-state marriages between same-sex couples on Ohio death certificates, just as Ohio recognizes all other out-of-state marriages." Otherwise, he said, it would violate the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction equal protection of the laws," the judge wrote."

Back in Arizona, just to show discrimination is a two-way street, Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria, a local Tucson pizza shop, put up a sign saying it "reserves the right to refuse service to Arizona legislators."

The news article AZ gov vetoes 'religious freedom' bill, Ohio lawmakers abandon kindred bill appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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