Vladimir Putin has officially won over the hearts and minds of Arizona Republicans.
Five days after state senators in Kansas killed a bill that would have led to massive discrimination against their LGBT community, a similar bill titled SB 1062 has made its way through the Arizona state senate with a final vote of 17-13 along party lines. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled House, which is expected to also pass the bill, before it moves to Governor Jan Brewer’s desk to be signed into law or vetoed.
For a political party whose national symbol is an animal that never forgets, Republicans sure seem to have a short memory when it comes to attempting to codify bigotry.
SB 1062 was sponsored by GOP state senator Steve Yarbrough as well as the conservative Christian Center for Arizona Policy. Yarbrough said that the bill, titled the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, “is not about allowing discrimination” but instead “is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.” In other words, any people or businesses that are “offended” by the lifestyle of any person have the right to deny them basic services.
Immediately following the vote, Arizona Senate democratic leader Anna Tovar released a statement condemning the actions of her Republican colleagues. The statement read:
“SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.
Legislation of this kind has been attempted this year in Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Idaho. Each of those attempts failed after prominent members of the business community spoke against the measures. While our state continues to recover from the public relations nightmare of SB 1070, the Republican supporters of this bill are willing to elicit the inevitable backlash and boycotts that will result from its passage.
Arizona does not need this bill, Arizonans do not want this bill and there is no place for this bill in our modern society. We have come too far to turn back the clock with such a disgraceful assault on members of our community based on their sexual orientation.”
As Tovar so eloquently states, this would be another black eye to a state still recovering from the tremendous financial hit it took upon the passage of SB 1070, the 2010 anti-immigration law that eventually had three of its four provisions struck down by the United States Supreme Court in 2012. Initial backlash of that law hit Arizona hard and the state lost millions of dollars due to various groups and organizations opting not to hold conventions and gatherings in the state. For a state like Arizona that heavily relies on tourism, it would be utterly foolish to try and enact a new law that openly discriminates against an entire subset of the population.
As bad as that would be for the state, let’s take a minute to consider the implication of SB 1062 if it is implemented. Obviously our friend Mr. Yarbrough has intended the law to allow conservative Christians to refuse service to LGBT members as a way to “live out their faith” as he stated. However, what if a Muslim shopkeeper refuses service to a Christian customer? What if a neo-Nazi refuses service to an African American? What if an unfortunate adult who was bullied as a child refuses service to anybody who played high school football? What if a Satanist shop owner refuses service to anyone who doesn’t embrace the Dark Lord?
I’m thinking Mr. Yarbrough and his friends didn’t really think this law through.
As this point, we don’t know what Governor Jan Brewer will do when the bill comes to her desk. Odds are she will veto it. Even if it is somehow signed into law, there will be immediate lawsuits and the law itself will ultimately be deemed unconstitutional. For Arizona Republicans, the vote directly down party lines in favor of this bill showed that they are clearly on the wrong side of history and yet, they still would rather support an unconstitutional bill openly discriminating against an entire group of people rather than admit they are in the wrong.
It is this inability to adapt to social changes that will doom the Republican Party, not simply in Arizona but nationwide. Polls have shown that as many as 74% of millennials support gay marriage and that number is growing every day. Each time a Republican state government, whether it’s in Kansas or Arizona, attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community, millennials take notice. This past week, a human chain formed around the University of Missouri gymnasium to prevent the Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting a speech by gay football player Michael Sam. That was in Missouri of all places, a state not traditionally known for its progressive views. If Republicans have lost the issue to millennials in the heartland of America, then they have definitely lost the issue nationwide.
Take the hint, Arizona Republicans.