Many fear religious freedom bill will harm Arizona tourism

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by Natalie Brand

azfamily.com

Posted on February 21, 2014 at 10:03 PM

Updated Monday, Feb 24 at 3:52 PM

Poll:
Are you in favor of the religious freedom bill?

PHOENIX -- The controversial religious freedom bill, Senate Bill 1062, has not yet reached Gov. Jan Brewer’s desk, but the cries of concern for Arizona’s image are only growing louder.

“I believe the damage has been done,” said Ben Bethel, owner of the Clarendon Hotel and Spa in midtown Phoenix.

Friday, he received two messages from potential guests thinking about canceling trips to the city.

“I’ve already made airline plans to visit Phoenix during spring break with my wife and two kids, but I’m worried about this new bill that allows people to discriminate,” read one message to the hotel's front desk.

“My concerns are really just that this is another MLK, another SB 1070, just another blunder that will take the state years to recover from,” Bethel said.

Supporters of SB 1062 say the legislation has been misinterpreted, explaining that the bill solely provides legal protection to people or businesses facing discrimination lawsuits.

“It would only apply where a person had sincerely held religious beliefs and the burden is substantial,” said Rep. John Kavanagh of District 8. “Being involved in an action, a gay marriage, that your religion says is wrong, that’s a substantial burden because you’re deeply involved in the ceremony.”

Brewer is expected to make a decision by next Friday.

“Well, it’s a very controversial piece of legislation. We know that. We know that it’s failed in a lot of states across the country,” she told CNN. “I have not been in town currently. I’ve been reading about it on the internet. It’s very controversial, so I’ve got to get my hands around it."

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council wrote a letter to the governor Friday, urging her to veto the bill.

“In addition to the concerns with the growing negative attention already being portrayed across both national and social media, we have already been contacted by four companies we are working on with the Arizona Commerce Authority who will look to locate elsewhere if this legislation is signed,” the letter stated in part.

Mayor Greg Stanton also urged a veto, saying the bill is “not only wrong, but would deliver a significant blow to the state economy.”

His statement read in part, “The only thing it will accomplish is to further divide our state and give new life to the false impression that Arizonans are intolerant, an impression we have worked so hard to overcome. Allowing that to happen would be a grave and wholly unnecessary self-inflicted wound that Arizona’s economy cannot afford.”

Many people have expressed concerns that the passage of the bill could mean threats of boycotts of Arizona's upcoming Super Bowl. 3TV asked the Super Bowl Committee for comment and received the following response:

“The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee is currently reviewing the legislation and in discussions with our state Tourism and Economic Development stewards to ensure that we are supporting them and their efforts to grow the economic vitality of Arizona."

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