PHOENIX (AP) — Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer slapped down the right wing of her own party, vetoing a bill pushed by social conservatives that would have allowed people with sincerely held religious beliefs to refuse to serve gays.
The conservative governor said she could not sign a bill that was not only unneeded but would damage the state's improving business environment and divide its citizens.
Senate Bill 1062 had set off a national debate over gay rights, religion and discrimination and subjected Arizona to blistering criticism from major corporations and political leaders from both parties.
Loud cheers erupted outside the Capitol building immediately after Brewer made her announcement Wednesday night.
Brewer pushed back hard against the GOP conservatives who forced the bill forward by citing examples of religious rights infringements in other states.
"I have not heard one example in Arizona where a business owner's religious liberty has been violated," Brewer said. "The bill is broadly worded and could result in unintended and negative consequences."
And she chastised the GOP-controlled state Legislature for sending her a divisive bill instead of working on a state budget that continues her economic expansion policies or an overhaul of Arizona's broken child welfare system, her top priorities.
In a reference to the gay marriage debate that has expanded across the nation, she reached out to the religious right with sympathy but said 1062 was not the solution.
"Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes," she said. "However, 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 nobody could ever want."
The bill was designed to give added protection from lawsuits to people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays or others who offend their beliefs. But opponents called it an open attack on gays that invited discrimination.