Mika and I have never travelled to the United States together. We have, individually, visited the United States on a number of occasions. Growing up I lived in Laurel, Maryland for several months in 1965 with my family. My father was serving in the Canadian Army at the time and was posted to Washington DC briefly. As a boy, Mika visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming with his family. I have been as far south in the United States as Florida; I took a holiday with my family during March break in 1977. I have been to New England and in 2012 had a very nice time visiting with a good friend and his family in Washington state. I have made periodic visits across the border into upstate New York on shopping trips. For our first trip together to the United States, Arizona is a state Mika and I are interested in visiting for a holiday. The appeal for us is to see the desert habitat, its hot, dry climate, the plants, like Sonora cactus, the wildlife, like road runners and javelinas and to get a taste of the culture of the Southwestern United States.
Arizonans welcome visitors. There are plenty of resorts, hotels and private lodgings available for people wanting to holiday in Arizona. There is even a website reaching out to gay tourists. From what Mika and I have heard of friends and acquaintances who have visited Arizona, it is a very nice place to take a holiday. To date, what has kept us from taking a trip to Arizona is budgeting for it and the fact that it is a very long, arduous journey from Ottawa to Arizona. Checking on flights from Ottawa to Arizona has shown, to date, that it involves multiple flights and several hours between flight time and layovers before you arrive in Arizona. We much prefer direct flights when we travel. Recent events in Arizona, notably the passage in the Arizona legislature of SB 1062 in a 33-27 vote on February 20, 2014, have raised an uncomfortable issue for us, something that will bear on any travel plans we make for a visit to Arizona.
SB 1062 concerns the practice of religion and religious accommodation in Arizona. Arizona in outside the Bible Belt, but religion is a very much a part of the culture. Christianity, Roman Catholic, Mormon and Protestant, is the dominant religion, demographically, in Arizona. Proponents of Senate Bill 1062, notably the Center for Arizona Policy, assert the legislation is necessary to safeguard religious liberty. Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, insists, “the Arizona bill has a very simple premise, that Americans should be free to live and work according to their religious faith. It’s simply about protecting religious liberty and nothing else.” (as cited in CNN U.S.)
SB 1062 is intended to accomplish this in adding clarity to Arizona law in adding the following:
• expand the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion;
• allow someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings;
• and expand those protected under the state’s free exercise of religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution, estate, trust, foundation or other legal entity.” (as cited in CNN U.S.)
SB 1062 was introduced by introduced by Senator Steve Yarbrough, a Republican from Chandler, Ariz., who maintains this “… would allow individuals to use religious beliefs as a defense in a lawsuit filed by another individual.” (CNN U.S.) Those who are in favour of the legislation cite the example of a wedding photographer who declined to take photos of a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony because of the photographer’s religious beliefs. The photographer, or any business owner for that matter, would have a legal basis to defend their refusal to serve a same-sex couple based on religious grounds. As it happens, in Arizona law sexual orientation is not listed as a prohibited grounds of discrimination; it is not illegal to discriminate on this basis. However, Arizona’s anti-sodomy law was repealed in 2001 with the passage of the Arizona Equity Act. It is not illegal to be gay in Arizona. In addition, by Executive Order 2003-22, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited in public employment. Furthermore, sexual orientation is included in Arizona’s hate crimes law. Arizona is ever so gradually granting full civil rights to its gay citizens.
SB 1062, in effect, makes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation lawful in Arizona. Those who choose to discriminate against gay people, based on their disapproval and dislike of gay people, can claim their religious preferences as a defense in accordance with what they assert is their constitutional right to religious liberty. This assertion is disingenuous to say the least and is drawing criticism not just from gay people, but from the Arizona business community. The Greater Phoenix Economic Council, represented by its president, Barry Broome, urged Governor Brewer to veto the bill stating the “legislation will likely have profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come. The legislation places businesses currently in Arizona, as well as those looking to locate here, in potentially damaging risk of litigation, and costly, needless legal disputes… With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the center of the world’s stage. This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts.” (as cited in CNN U.S.)
SB 1062, should it become law, will undoubtedly end up before the courts, facing challenges on constitutional grounds. Despite this turn of events, Mika and I intend take a holiday in Arizona some day. We are confident that most Arizonans will neither notice, nor care that we are a gay couple. Having said that, however, we will take care to avoid booking accommodation in Arizona to a business whose proprietor refuses to serve gay people whether on religious or any other grounds.
Posted by Geoffrey and Mika