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Arizona legislature passes bill allowing businesses to refuse service for religious reasons

Arizona state lawmakers gave final approval on Thursday to a bill [materials] that will allow state business owners to refuse service to individuals for "religious reasons," a law that has been denounced by critics as sanctioning discrimination against LGBT individuals. The bill was jointly written [Arizona Republic report] by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy and the Alliance Defending Freedom [advocacy websites], a Christian legal organization. The voting occurred largely along party lines, with state Republicans generally voting in favor of the bill. It will now go to Governor Jan Brewer, who will have five days to sign the bill into law. The Arizona House Minority Leader released a statement [text] on Thursday urging Brewer to veto the bill, stating that it unfairly targets the LGBT community and promotes extremism and discrimination. The Arizona American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [official website] has reportedly [Reuters report] stated that the bill is "unnecessary and discriminatory," has nothing to do with God or faith, and simply allows businesses and private individuals to use religion as a means to discriminate.

LGBT rights continue to be a divisive issue both in the US and abroad, with the primary focus on the rights of such individuals to marry [JURIST backgrounder]. In January four Arizona same-sex couples filed [JURIST report] a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. In December a federal court declared [JURIST report] Utah's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, and a similar decision was reached [JURIST report] by the New Mexico Supreme Court just a few days previously, following an August order [JURIST report] to district court clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In June 2013 the US Supreme Court overturned [JURIST report] the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal statute defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman that precluded same-sex couples legally married under state law from receiving federal benefits afforded to heterosexual couples.

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