Actor protests religious freedom bill; businesses fear loss of customers

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- A bill allowing business owners to refuse service to gays for religious reasons is one signature away from becoming law in Arizona.

Gov. Jan Brewer has three options: sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without her signature, or veto it.

In an interview Friday, the governor gave no hints as to which option she will choose, saying she needs more time to review the controversial legislation.

An actor visiting Arizona State University to promote tolerance and equality through the Characters Unite initiative weighed in.

Christopher Gorham, who plays a blind CIA agent in the television series "Covert Affairs," said the bill sitting on Brewer's desk does the opposite of what he was in town to promote.

"The AZ Legislature seems to be writing discrimination into the law books," he said.

Supporters say Senate Bill 1062, known as the religious freedom bill, would protect business owners who choose to refuse services to gays because of religious beliefs.

But opponents say it's simply an excuse to discriminate in the name of religion.

"I think it's a very pretty way of saying, 'We're going to protect religious people's rights to discriminate,' " Gorham said.

Some Arizona business owners worry the bill, if passed, will scare customers away.

"I'm a businessman in Arizona. I don't want any more black marks on Arizona," said Howard Fleischmann, owner of Community Tire Pros and Auto Repair. "We've got great things here. We've got a great state. Why would we do this?"

Fleischmann said Community Tire Pros and Auto Repair serves people from across the country and the Arizona bill could be off-putting.

"Because it says you're part of that, and we're not," he explained.

Barry Broome, CEO and President of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, said the legislation is a threat to the region's economy and state's reputation.

"This bill is not looked upon as policy. It's really looked at as something that's forgetting certain classes of people," he said. "We've worked so hard for the last six years to come out of this recession, and we see this bill as nothing more than pandering to extreme political groups. We see it as something that is negative and counterproductive."

Broome urges Brewer to think of the consequences passing a law like this could bring to the state.

“It'll be beyond difficult, if it's signed, and I really fear that it'll target the Super Bowl," Broome said.

Broome said some investments are on hold pending Brewer's decision, and one business has already discontinued service in Phoenix because of the legislation.