Proponents of Arizona’s SB 1062 argue that it “protects religious freedom,” but the national backlash against its passage has emphasized that it will be used to justify discrimination against LGBT people and possibly any other group that an individual might have a religious objection to. State Sen. Al Melvin (R), who is also running for governor, supported the bill and joined Anderson Cooper on CNN Monday to defend its passage and urge Gov. Jan Brewer (R) to sign it.
During the extended interview, not all of which aired, Cooper pressed Melvin about whether the bill could actually be used to justify discrimination, suggesting an example of a loan officer refusing to provide a loan to a divorced woman because of his religious belief against divorce. Melvin avoided addressing the question, repeatedly asserting that the bill protects “religious freedom.” Cooper challenged him to provide one example of what exactly needs protected, but Melvin could not provide a single example:
COOPER: You say it’s all about protecting people of faith in Arizona. Can you give me a specific example of someone in Arizona who’s been forced to do something against their religious belief or [been] successfully sued because of their faith?
MELVIN: Again, I think if anything, this bill is preemptive: to protect priests —
COOPER: You can’t give me one example of this actually happening?
MELVIN: No I can’t, but we’ve seen it in other states and we don’t want it to happen here. […]
COOPER: You can’t cite one example of where religious freedom is under attack in Arizona.
MELVIN: Not now, no, but how about tomorrow?
Watch part one of the full extended interview:
The example from another state that SB 1062 proponents like Melvin most often cite is the New Mexico photographer who refused to take photographs for a same-sex commitment ceremony. She was found in violation of the state’s nondiscrimination protections, which include sexual orientation, and lost at every level of her fight, including a unanimous decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court. Though Arizona does not have statewide protections that include sexual orientation, several of its big cities do — including Phoenix, Tuscon, and Flagstaff. Given that 65 percent of the state’s population lives in the Phoenix metro area alone, a significant portion of the state is, in fact, covered by the protections, and this bill would circumvent them.
The anti-LGBT Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which helped craft the bill, similarly tried to defend it this week in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic. ADF has been defending that New Mexico photographer, Elaine Huguenin of Elane Photography, and argued that her rights were denied:
Elaine, however, did not refuse the women because they identify as homosexual. She declined to photograph the ceremony only because she didn’t want to promote a message at odds with her sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage. So, Elaine asserted a defense under New Mexico’s RFRA, similar to Arizona’s current RFRA, saying that the government should not be able to force her to promote and participate in the ceremony when doing so violates her religious convictions.
But the ambiguity in New Mexico’s RFRA, like Arizona’s current one, allowed the New Mexico Supreme Court to hand down a strained interpretation that actually distinguished between Elaine as a photographer and Elaine as a small-business owner.
SB 1062 would eliminate the distinction between an individual and a small business when it comes to protecting religious freedom. Because Elane Photography is a business open to the public, and thus a public accommodation, it is required to abide by New Mexico’s nondiscrimination policies. Arizona’s bill would let any individual within a public business assert a religious belief, and thus circumvent any laws that conflicted with them.
Sen. Melvin’s inability to imagine a need for this bill is unsurprising. Its authors have already made clear that it is to ensure anti-LGBT discrimination can take place, which, as he demonstrated in this interview, he doesn’t want to admit.