In the end, death came decisively. After days of feverish speculation, on February 26th Jan Brewer, Arizona's Republican governor, vetoed SB 1062, a bill passed by the legislature a week earlier that would have allowed private businesses to cite religious beliefs as a defence against lawsuits over discriminatory treatment. Although the law made no mention of sexuality it was widely, and correctly, interpreted as a licence for business owners or their employees to deny service to gays. Large corporations, local business groups and Republican bigwigs had fallen over themselves urging Ms Brewer to ditch the law. A group of Hispanic lawyers scrapped plans to hold a convention in Phoenix, the state capital; other boycotts, including of the Super Bowl in Glendale next year, might well have followed.
|Another bad law avoided|
But it is becoming hard to ignore the singular ability of Arizona's legislators to bring national scorn upon themselves by passing nasty, ill-considered legislation. The row over SB 1062 comes less than four years after the passage of SB 1070, a law Ms Brewer did sign that empowered state police to enforce federal immigration law and which, say critics, encouraged racial profiling. (The Supreme Court struck down most of its provisions before it went into effect.)
Other states are considering religious-freedom laws like Arizona's, and SB 1070 inspired similar legislation elsewhere. So why does Arizona take all the heat? Partly because it tends to go farthest; and also because it displays a peculiar inability to cope with the conundrums of modernity. Comparisons of SB 1062 to Jim Crow never seemed right, because Arizona differs from the conservative states of the south-east; it has a libertarian streak and is slowly turning leftwards, thanks in part to a growing Latino population. Gay-marriage proponents see it as a riper target than the states of the Confederacy. No other border state felt it necessary to pass SB 1070-style legislation. But Arizona's legislators ploughed on regardless. (The state legislature is one of America's most polarised.)
Yet as the gay-marriage juggernaut rolls on, the Arizona row does provide a useful reminder that social conservatism remains a potent political force. Most Americans back gay marriage, but most also say it violates their religious beliefs. The pace of such change is unprecedented; the absence of a backlash would be a surprise. The difficulty for conservatives is that their rational contentions -- that gay unions are bad for children, or the institution of marriage -- have, one by one, been weighed in courts and rejected. And so they have retreated to the realm of faith, where there is no obligation to provide argument, merely to demonstrate sincerity of belief.
The Arizona law, and similar bills elsewhere, appear to have been motivated by lawsuits against businesses that refused to provide services (photography, cakes) to gay couples on religious grounds. Federal law does provide for protection of religious sensibility, and states that allow gay weddings do not force places of worship to host them. It is not immediately obvious why such protections should not extend to the private sector; as defenders of Arizona's law argued, they do not shed their faith when they leave church on Sunday.
Still, that argument is probably better played out in the market than the courts. Hard cases, as the saying goes, make bad law. The irony is that none of these hard cases happened to take place in Arizona -- and the state still made a bad law.
By The Economist
Source: The Economist