Within hours of Arizona’s Republican-dominated Legislature’s approving a measure that established a legal defense for business owners to discriminate based on a “sincerely held religious belief,” thousands of gay-rights advocates flocked to the lush green lawn at the state Capitol in Phoenix.
It was February 21, and they united to demand that Governor Jan Brewer veto Senate Bill 1062, the so-called “Religious Freedom” bill.
Someone in the pack of protesters yelled: “What do we want?!”
“Equal rights!” the congregation shouted back.
“When do we want it?”
The verbal volley continued, as did rousing impromptu speeches.
“You have states in this country that recognize same-sex marriage . . . and what does Arizona do? We go backward in time!” Senator Steve Gallardo roared into the crowd surrounding him. “It is time for us to send a loud message to every member in the Legislature [who] voted for these hateful bills . . . We are not going to stand around and watch this type of discrimination . . . targeting the LGBT community.”
Protesters gathered at the Capitol daily to decry what quickly was dubbed anti-gay legislation.
Brewer’s veto didn’t come until February 26 — and as she pondered her decision, Arizona was publicly shamed daily by news outlets and political pundits across the country and internationally. Even right-wing commentators on Fox News called the bill “political overreach” and likened it to old Jim Crow laws in the South that discriminated against African Americans.
It didn’t take much political courage for Brewer to reject the powerful lobby of the religious right. She was urged to do so by fellow Republicans (including both of Arizona’s U.S. senators), faced the state’s potential loss of the Super Bowl in 2015, and received extreme pressure from the business community, including from corporate giants like Apple, the National Football League, Verizon, and American Airlines.
At the end of the day, Brewer did not publicly buy claims that business owners’ religious freedoms were jeopardized.
“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I’ve not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberties has been violated,” Brewer stated at a press conference, moments after her veto. “The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences.”
Outside, as word of Brewer’s veto spread across the lawn, jubilant cheers erupted from the throng of protesters — they shed tears, embraced, and pumped fists in the air.