Arizona Legislature

Arizona State Senators assemble, Thursday, May 16, 2013, at the Capitol in Phoenix.

Associated Press

The effects of SB 1062 on gays may depend on where people live and work.

Proponents of the measure point out that nothing in Arizona law protects people based on their sexual orientation. Business owners remain free to turn away gays, whether for religious reasons or purely personal preferences.

But it's different in cities that extend civil rights protections to some extent to gays.

In Tucson, for example, the city code makes it illegal for places that serve the public to discriminate for a variety of reasons. That includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

City Attorney Mike Rankin said the ordinance envisions someone denied service filing a complaint. At that point the city would decide whether to issue a citation.

The Tempe City Council will vote on its own ordinance during a meeting scheduled for next Thursday.

Existing state law already permits business owners to claim religious reasons as a defense against government complaints. That person would have to show his or her action is motivated by a religious belief, the belief is “sincerely held” and that the regulation “substantially burdens” the person's exercise of that belief.

SB 1062 would extend that defense to claims filed by individuals against businesses, where the government is not a party.

But Rankin said that, in either case, those claims by a business owner do not end the matter. It is then up to the city -- or the person denied the service -- to prove that the regulation serves a “compelling governmental interest.” The classic version of that is the government's interest in preventing murder trumps an individual's sincerely held religious belief about sacrificing a first-born child.

Even that does not end the issue. Rankin said the person seeking to demand service and override an individual's religious belief also has to show that the regulation is “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

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