A proposed bill in Arizona would offer protections to residents who refuse service to gays and lesbians because of their religious beliefs.
The controversial measure, being championed by Republican state Sen. Steve Yarbrough, was given initial approval by the Senate Government and Environment Committee last week, the Associated Press reported.
Critics say the bill would allow for legalized discrimination of gays and lesbians, though Yarbrough says it would simply provide increased protections for citizens based on their religious views.
The text of bill would essentially allow any workers sued in a civil case to claim they have a legal right to withhold service if doing so would "substantially burden" their religious freedom.
Those opposed believe that the bill gives rights to religious individuals that minority groups simply do not have.
American Civil Liberties Union attorney Dan Pochoda said his organization typically opposes these sorts of laws.
"They generally result from persons claiming that their religious beliefs entitle them to disregard civil-rights laws that protect against various discriminations including on the basis of religion, gender, marital status, national origin and sexual orientation," he told Arizona's East Valley Tribune.
A nearly identical bill was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last year, though her reasons for doing so were reportedly rooted in lawmakers' decision not to take up the budget or a Medicare expansion plan. It's unclear what she would do this time around if it passes.
One big difference in last year's bill, however, is that people or religious groups would have been able to sue if they believed a government regulation impeded their religious rights. This has been removed from the most recent bill, according to the AP.
Following its initial approval, SB 1062 will now go to the Senate Rules Committee and then to the full Senate for review.
The debate comes as states across the country struggle to balance the rights of business owners and gays and lesbians.
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