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Religion and gay rights meet again in Arizona

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As reported on WZZM13 TV in Phoenix on Feb. 26, 2014, Arizona governor Jan Brewer (R) has vetoed the bill that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays on religious grounds. Among many possible questions about this bill, how would businesses know who was or was not gay?

There was an increasing opposition to the Arizona Senate Bill 1062 that would have shielded business owners from lawsuits if the businesses had refused service based upon religious grounds. The bill got the greatest attention from the LGBT community, but the law could have been applied to a Muslim woman wearing a veil that was denied service.

While many federal judges have used the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) by the Supreme Court of the US (SCOTUS) to rule state bans on same-gender marriage illegal, other states are considering similar laws as the one now vetoed in Arizona. Two states considering similar laws were mentioned in the newscast as being Kansas and Utah.

The whole issue of same-gender marriages is clearly a religious issue. Spiritualists believe that the basis of all marriages, whatever the gender of the people in the relationship, must be one of love, respect and mutual commitment. The state should not be involved. Ohio passed a Constitutional amendment in 2004 based upon 62% of people in Ohio being against same-gender (gay) marriages. Once again, majority rule did not necessarily lead to religious tolerance. Like other states, polls show that Ohioans are much more accepting of same-gender relationships than in 2004.

While the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and California’s PROP 8 fell far short of declaring all state laws banning same-gender marriages to be illegal, lower Federal courts are using the SCOTUS decision to roll back these same-gender laws and state constitutional amendments. It is very likely that SCOTUS will reaffirm their decisions prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people with regard to business service, health coverage and tax laws at the state level as well as the federal level.

As reported by Associated Press’ Jesse J. Holland on Feb. 26, 2014, one of the groups to be commended in forcing the issue for Gov. Brewer's veto was the National Hispanic Lawyers Association. This group threatened to pull their national convention out of Arizona unless the senate bill was vetoed. There were similar concerns for cancellation of the 2015 Super Bowl. Money or the potential loss thereof has a powerful voice.

There has been a steady erosion of the 1st Amendment provision of separation of church and state going back to Flag Day in 1954 when the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. This inclusion of God in the Pledge of Allegiance was done at the height of the cold war when Russia was seen as a demon atheistic nation. Russia is now battling its own religious freedom battles while creating huge issues with its bans on homosexuality.

Same-gender marriages are going to be accepted in all states. The experience of Arizona and the ill-advised attempt to allow religious beliefs to supersede nondiscrimination laws will be noted in other states. The majority of American citizens now tolerate same-gender marriages whether they personally believe in same-gender marriages or not. Whatever the rationale used by Gov. Brewer to veto the senate bill, this veto helps to reaffirm the separation of church and state in Arizona, and makes a small stride in restoring separation of church and state for the US Constitution.

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