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AZ lawmakers: Non-discrimination laws should protect LGBTQ Arizonans, too

AZ lawmakers: Non-discrimination laws should protect LGBTQ Arizonans, too

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Equality isn’t a red or a blue issue — it’s an American issue. That’s why, for the second year in a row, we are proud to introduce bipartisan legislation to update Arizona’s current non-discrimination law to include sexual orientation and gender identity with House Bill 2546 and Senate Bill 1249.

Our current non-discrimination law protects Arizonans based on a wide array of characteristics such as religion, race, age, nationality, gender, pregnancy and ability. This means that if you are discriminated against based on any of these characteristics you have recourse under the law.

However, as it stands, if you are discriminated against based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, you have no legal recourse. And while six municipalities in Arizona have LGBTQ-inclusive ordinances inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, this means that in over 60 percent of the state it is not illegal to fire someone, deny them housing or refuse them service simply based on who they are or whom they love.

If we want to create an Arizona that is truly open for business, we need to be open for business to everyone. An update to our law will position us to compete with our neighbors who are overwhelmingly inclusive, support and grow our economy and avoid another SB1062 fiasco, which damaged our reputation nationally. That bill, which then-Gov. Jane Brewer vetoed, would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ customers based on religious objections.

The business community strongly supports this measure because they know to attract the best business and best talent we need to remove harmful barriers that have nothing to do with job performance or skill. That’s why 90 percent of Arizona’s top 50 employers include sexual orientation and gender identity in their non-discrimination policies.

Additionally, Arizonans know that equality isn’t just good for LGBTQ Arizonans but for all Arizonans. A recent statewide poll showed support for inclusive non-discrimination at over 70 percent in the areas of employment, housing and public services among likely general election voters.

The principles of non-discrimination are rooted in core conservative values of fairness, equality and opportunity. Everybody should have the chance to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families. Nobody should have to live in fear that they can be legally fired for reasons that have nothing to do with their job performance.

There is also an added urgency to update our laws this session. On Jan. 22, the Arizona Supreme Court heard Brush & Nib v. the City of Phoenix regarding potential exemptions from Phoenix’s nondiscrimination ordinance that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The Maricopa County Superior Court rejected this attempt to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and a three-judge panel at the Arizona Court of Appeals unanimously upheld that ruling this summer, writing that extraordinary exemptions to nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation would constitute a “grave and continuing harm.”

Nevertheless, this case has the potential to put Arizona back in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. That’s why over 250 businesses, including the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, the Arizona Lodging & Tourism Association, PayPal, American Express and more signed an amicus curiae brief in support of Phoenix.

And that’s why we should proactively move away from a system of patchwork laws and seek a statewide update — because our rights shouldn’t depend on our zip code.

We agree that freedom of religion is one of our most fundamental rights – that’s why it’s protected by the First Amendment and by Arizona’s non-discrimination law. But that freedom does not give any of us the right to harm other people, to impose our beliefs on others or to discriminate in the public square.

Businesses open to the public should be open to the public on the same terms.

We don’t know how the Arizona Supreme Court will rule, but we know that we want to send a message to all Arizonans, all Americans and the rest of the world that Arizona is open for business to everyone.

State Rep. Daniel Hernandez, a Democrat, represents southern Tucson, Sahuarita, Green Valley and Nogales; Republican state Sen. Kate Brophy McGee and Democratic state Sen. Sean Bowie represent much of the Phoenix metro area.

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