Companies in the American state of Arizona could soon be entitled to refuse to serve gays and lesbians if it’s against their religious beliefs.
An appalling piece of legislation to legalise this was passed by the Republican-led House on Thursday, with 33 voting for the bill and 27 against. It now goes to Governor Jan Brewer for her signature or veto.
If it becomes law, a restaurant could be allowed to place a sign outside its door proclaiming: “Gays not allowed.” Similarly, wedding service providers would be able to refuse services to same-sex couples without facing a discrimination lawsuit.
Brewer, who is a Republican, has not yet announced her decision on supporting or rejecting the bill.
Shannon Minter from the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Los Angeles Times that if it becomes law the legislation would most likely be struck down by the courts.
“The Arizona Senate bill is blatantly unconstitutional,” Minter said. “It violates the requirement of equal protection of the laws by openly singling out a particular group of people and saying it’s OK to discriminate against them.”
The conservative lobby group Center for Arizona Policy has backed the bill and claims that it simply protects religious freedom as “religious hostility grows throughout the nation.” It told its supporters that the bill “protects your right to live and work according to your faith.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the proposed law “could be used to protect businesses that discriminate not only again the LGBT community but also unmarried women or those of different religions.”
The organisation said that the majority of Americans do not support such legislation. In a poll last year, 69 percent of those surveyed believed businesses should not be able to refuse services to the LGBT community.
Commenting on the vote, the Democratic leader in the House, Chad Cambpell, who voted against the bill, tweeted: “The world is upset with how Russia has treated gay rights…I think it’s time for that same anger to be directed towards AZ.”
Similar bills allowing discrimination against gay people on religious grounds have been introduced in other US states including Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma.