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Pierce wants Brewer to veto denial of service bill

Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce of Prescott is joining several gubernatorial candidates in calling for Gov. Jan Brewer to veto a controversial piece of legislation that would allow business owners to refuse to serve gays by citing their religious beliefs.

"I don't like the negative picture of Arizona, and I'm on board asking the governor to veto the bill," Pierce said Saturday.

Gubernatorial candidates against Senate Bill 1062 becoming law include State Treasurer Doug Ducey and attorney Christine Jones. Ducey supports some kind of consensus legislation to protect religious liberty, and Jones said the bill would damage the state's reputation and economic growth.

Other candidates for governor, Secretary of State Ken Bennett of Prescott and Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, say they don't support the bill. Bennett called it unnecessary and divisive, while Smith said it has the potential to negatively affect basic rights, including freedom of religion.

All three of the legislators representing the Prescott area voted for the bill, including Pierce.

"To say (the bill is) anti-gay is following the feeding frenzy," Pierce said. "I have friends that are gay and I wouldn't do anything to hurt them. This is blown way out of proportion and it's too bad."

Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden and Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott also defended their votes. (See the story in Saturday's Daily Courier for Tobin's comments.)

"This bill is not about discriminating against any person," Fann said Saturday.

"We have federal and state laws which prohibit those actions, which I wholeheartedly agree with."

She cited examples of what the bill is designed to prevent: a minister could be forced to perform a gay marriage, or a doctor could be forced to conduct an abortion.

The Arizona Religious Freedom Restoration Act currently prevents the state and its local governments from substantially burdening a person's exercise of religion, similar to the federal law.

SB1062 seeks to expand the law by expanding the definition of person to in-clude associations, businesses and churches; by expanding the definition of state action to include non-government persons; and by allowing people and businesses to use their religion as a defense in a judicial proceeding whether the government is involved or not.

Several legislators including Tobin said the law is needed after a New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against a photographer who refused to document a gay wedding. That court concluded the photographer violated the state's Human Rights Act that makes it illegal for a business to refuse service to people based on their sexual orientation. Arizona has no such law.

The AP contributed to this story.

Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder


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