On Thursday, Arizona's Senate approved a bill that would make anti-gay discrimination legal. Only the bill doesn't call it discrimination. It calls it religious liberty.
The bill would make it legal for businesses and others to turn away gay Arizonans, and it only needs Gov. Jan Brewer's signature to become law.
Anyone could refuse service to gay people if "it would be contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs." The right to discriminate will be held by "any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly, or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity," according to the text of the bill.
That means that gay couples can legally be refused service in literally any context. That includes hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, stores. Charities can refuse their money. Taxis can refuse to carry them.
If you're gay and you want to sue because a restaurant turned you away, that is more-or-less off the table, too.You would now have to prove that your request to be treated equally furthers "a compelling governmental interest." If you can't prove that (which sounds hard), you are liable for all the costs of the court case, including the defense.
In an act of bravery, newly-appointed Rep. Demion Clinco (D) "came out as the only openly gay House member," Think Progress reports. He then explained "how the legislation could be used to discriminate against him, such a taxi that would refuse to give him a ride"
The bill has already passed both Arizona legislatures and will become law if conservative Gov. Jan Brewer signed it. Last year she vetoed a bill just like this, but her veto wasn't on principal. Instead she vetoed it as part of a strategic punishment for legislators during a budget standoff, meaning she could well sign this week's bill into law.
But religious freedom advocates may be shooting themselves in the foot. The bill would also allow businesses to refuse service to people with religions they disagree with. So a mainline Protestant could refuse business to a Mormon, or a Satanist could refuse to serve Christians.
Arizona Democrats have also warned of another downside. Some fear that gay-friendly businesses might boycott the state for passing the law, regardless of whether anyone uses it to discriminate.
Meanwhile Kansas and Tennessee today moved to the left of Arizona on gay rights. A similarly-worded bill was surprisingly thrown out by the Kansas Senate, proving wrong the pundits who assumed that Senate Republicans would pass the bill and send it for GOP Gov Brownback's signature. The "turn away gays" bill was likewise dropped this week by its sponsors in Tennessee.
You can read the full text of Arizona's bill here.