Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill on Wednesday that was derided by critics as a license to discriminate against gays in the name of religion, citing opposition from big business and warning that the measure could “create more problems than it purports to solve.”
The bill, passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature last week, would have allowed business owners to claim their religious beliefs as legal justification for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customer.
The measure was widely seen as a backlash against a recent string of US federal court decisions in several states, from Utah to Virginia, recognizing marriage rights for same-sex couples.
However, Brewer came under mounting pressure to veto the measure as a number of major business organizations and some fellow Republicans, including the state’s two US senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, came out against the legislation, dubbed Senate Bill 1062.
“Senate Bill 1062 does not address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona,” Brewer said in a statement.
Gay-rights activists rallying outside the capitol erupted in cheers at news of the veto.
“I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated,” she said, going on to critique the bill as a broadly worded proposal that “could result in unintended and negative consequences.”
Brewer’s veto coincided with another high-profile victory on Wednesday for gay rights activists, who won a US federal court decision in Texas striking down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, although it was immediately stayed pending appeal.
In a nod to conservative supporters of the Arizona bill who have expressed concerns over how such court rulings could encroach on the religious convictions of those opposed to gay marriage, Brewer said: “I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before.”
However, she added, “I sincerely believe that Senate Bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve. It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and no one would ever want.”
Brewer also pointed to broad opposition the bill faced from the very business community that supporters said the measure was designed to protect.
And she noted that three state senators who voted for the bill, which passed 17-14, had since reconsidered and were urging a veto.
Her veto announcement came hours after Major League Baseball and the National Football League joined a growing chorus of business organizations denouncing or expressing strong reservations about the legislation.
Echoing calls for Arizona boycotts previously stirred by Brewer’s support for tough measures to clamp down on illegal immigration, the Hispanic National Bar Association said on Wednesday that its board had voted unanimously to pull its annual convention from Phoenix in light of last week’s passage of 1062.
Once a lightning rod for political rancor over her position on immigration, Brewer struck a tone of conciliation in her rejection of 1062 and suggested she was moved in part by concerns about the appearance of bigotry.
“Religious liberty is a core American and Arizona value. So is non-discrimination,” she said, urging all sides “to turn the ugliness of the debate over Senate bill 1062 into a renewed search for great respect and understanding among all Arizonans and Americans.”