The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, Feb. 26:
Not content to have besmirched their state's reputation by passing a mean-spirited immigration law, legislators in Arizona have approved an equally objectionable bill that would make it easier for businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians. Gov. Jan Brewer should heed the advice of business and political leaders in her state and veto the bill.
Like other states and the federal government, Arizona allows individuals (and religious institutions) to ignore laws that "substantially burden" the exercise of religion. The government can insist on compliance, however, if a law is designed to further a compelling state interest and is narrowly tailored. This approach strikes an appropriate balance between religious freedom and the ability of the government to legislate for the common good.
SB 1062 would upset that balance by redefining a "person" able to raise a religious objection to include a partnership, corporation or "other business organization." That would provide a defense for businesses that refuse to serve gay customers in those cities in Arizona that outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Arizona lamentably lacks a statewide ban on such discrimination.)
But the bill would have even broader effects. It would make it easier for businesses to evade state laws against discrimination on the basis of race, religion and gender. An owner of a company might have a "religious" objection to interracial marriage or to leadership roles for women, and might refuse to deal with interracial couples or a women's professional group.
There are a small number of cases in which equal treatment for gays and lesbians might interfere with 1st Amendment rights. For example, this page was sympathetic to a wedding photographer in New Mexico who argued that requiring her to photograph a same-sex ceremony put her in the position of communicating a message she disagreed with. But such situations are rare.
As a general matter, businesses that cater to the general public shouldn't be able to discriminate against gays and lesbians any more than they are allowed to turn away customers on the basis of race, gender or religion. In making such discrimination easier, SB 1062 fails the test of fairness. It shouldn't become law.