WASHINGTON — America’s top diplomat predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would strike down an anti-gay proposal in Arizona if it ever becomes law and called Wednesday on the state’s governor to “make the right decision” and veto it.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is weighing whether to approve or veto a law that would protect people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays.
In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked on the MSNBC network about whether the bill undermines U.S. criticism of a new law in Uganda that punishes gay sex with up to life in prison.
Kerry said hoped Brewer would veto the proposal by a Saturday deadline.
“I’m counting on the governor,” Kerry said. “I cannot imagine how that law would withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of the United States. So I would hope that, you know, she’ll make the right decision.”
The former Democratic presidential nominee and Massachusetts senator said recognition of gay rights has not had an easy path in the U.S., but he said enormous progress has been made and that America would stand up for gay rights worldwide.
Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in several states, but Arizona’s plan is the only one that has passed. The bills have been drawn up by opponents of same-sex marriage who are scrambling to find effective responses to a rash of court rulings that could force some of America’s most conservative states to accept gay nuptials.
Brewer was holding a series of private meetings Wednesday with opponents and proponents of the legislation as business groups, gay rights supporters and even fellow Republicans urged her to use her veto power. There is widespread speculation that Brewer will veto the bill, but she has not said how she’ll act.
The bill has ignited a media firestorm, bringing new scrutiny to a state already known for its tough stance on immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Business leaders are concerned that the law would embarrass the state and hurt its tourism industry.
The legislation allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. Supporters call the bill a slight tweak to the state’s existing religious freedom law, which does not extend protections to people based on their views on sexual orientation.
Democrats say the legislation is an outright attack on the rights of gays and lesbians that will hurt the state’s economy because businesses and tourists will avoid Arizona like they did after the passage of a 2010 law that cracked down on immigration.
Opponents also say the law would be a major distraction as Arizona prepares to host next year’s Super Bowl, the National Football League’s championship game that is the most-watched event on American television.
Some business leaders fear the NFL could even move the Super bowl out of Arizona if the law passes. That has happened only once before in 1993, after Arizona rescinded Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday.
With the business community lining up against the proposal, Brewer could be hard-pressed to sign it into law. She has worked hard to return Arizona’s economy to pre-recession levels with business-friendly incentives and tax cuts.
Arizona has already lost at least one convention in response to the bill, as the Hispanic National Bar Association said Wednesday it was cancelling its 2015 convention in Phoenix.
President Miguel Alexander Pozo said the group’s board of governors voted unanimously to withdraw, saying “it is imperative that we speak up and take immediate action in the presence of injustice.”
Among the businesses urging a veto are Apple Inc., which is opening a manufacturing plant in Mesa, along with American Airlines, Marriott and Scottsdale-based GoDaddy.
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