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Arizona's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Bill Trolled by a Pair of Democratic Senators

Arizona's Anti-LGBT "Religious Freedom" Bill Trolled by a Pair of Democratic Senators
By Matthew Hendley

The sponsor of Arizona's controversial Senate Bill 1062, Republican Senator Steve Yarbrough, insists his bill is not a license for businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Through a bit of trolling, a pair of Democratic senators set out to prove the bill -- which has since passed the Senate and is scheduled to be heard in the House this afternoon -- does just that.

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Yarbrough's bill would expand the rights of businesses to make exercise-of-religion claims. Yarbrough specifically has compared his legislation to the case in New Mexico, in which a wedding photographer refused to photograph a lesbian couple's wedding. Yarbrough's bill would give the photographer a defense, if that were an Arizona case.

The two Democrats who led the fight of the bill yesterday, Senators Steve Gallardo and Ed Ableser, proposed eight amendments to Yarbrough's bill, most of which would have prevented a business from discriminating against an LGBT person. Yarbrough, and the Republican majority, voted down each one.

UPDATE February 21: The House has passed this bill, and it's now in the hands of Governor Jan Brewer. Click here to read more.

First, Gallardo offered adding specific LGBT protections to the bill. That was voted down.

Then, Gallardo offered that any business that does want to reserve service to someone based on a religious belief should let that be known on a sign posted at the front of the business.

"There's a reason why businesses don't want anyone to know [they discriminate], it's because they will go out of business -- they know that," Gallardo said. "They know that this type of discrimination would not be tolerated in Arizona."

That was voted down.

Then Ableser introduced his series of amendments.

Current law allows a person to make an exercise-of-religion claim in court, and part of Yarbrough's proposed expansion of this law would change the definition of "person" to include "any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church or other business organization."

Ableser said that's not the definition of a person, and offered up a more scientific way to define a "person" in this section of the law as "a species of bipedal primates to which modern humans belong, characterized by the brain capacity averaging 85 cubic inches, and the dependency on language and the creation and use of complex tools."

"I think we can all agree to that," Ableser said.

Yarbrough called the amendment "odd," as he and the Republicans voted it down.

Then Ableser wanted a tougher definition of what the "exercise of religion" might be. For Christianity, he used the "greatest commandments" described by Jesus in Matthew 22: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," and, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

Ableser offered another variation, saying that someone's exercise of religion can't harm another person.

And another variation: People who are victims of someone's religious beliefs should be able to sue as well. And another one: An exercise-of-religion claim shouldn't be based of a contradictory interpretation of religious scripture. All of those amendments failed.

For good measure, Ableser offered one more amendment: People shouldn't be able to make an exercise-of-religion claim based on Satanism.

Ableser cited one of the "Eleven Satanic Rules of the Earth," which states, "If a guest in your lair annoys you, treat him cruelly and without mercy."

Under Yarbrough's bill, a Satanist business owner could defend himself in a lawsuit by saying his religious beliefs dictated that he must have treated someone cruelly and without mercy for being an annoyance.

Like the rest of the amendments, that one was voted down too.

At one point during this floor hearing yesterday, Gallardo made it clear what they were getting at.

"You can't argue the fact that this bill will open up the doors for discrimination," he said. "I invite any member on this floor to stand up and point out how this bill would not invite discrimination against gays and lesbians. You can't do it, because that's the point of this bill!"

Yarbrough responded that the bill "is all about preventing discrimination against people who are engaged in the serious exercise of their religious faith."

The bill passed the Senate on party lines, and it looks like a similar fight's about to take place in the House this afternoon, based on what Democratic Representative Mark Cardenas posted to Twitter this morning:

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

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Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.


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