UPDATE, Thursday 2/20/14, 7:30pm EST: The Arizona House just passed this bill tonight. The fate of anti-LGBT segregation in Arizona now rests in the hands of the state's Tea Party Republican governor, Jan Brewer, who has five days to decide whether to sign or veto it.
This afternoon, on a party-line 17-13 vote, Republicans in the Arizona Senate bucked the national trend and gave final approval to SB 1062, a GOP-led bill that would create a special "right" to discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of religion.
Under the bill, which was introduced by Republican State Senator Steve Yarbrough, individuals and businesses would be granted the legal right to refuse services to people or groups if they claimed that doing so would "substantially burden" their freedom of religion.
In interviews with local media, Yarbrough made it perfectly clear that the specific purpose of this bill is to legitimize discrimination against the LGBT community. But during today's nearly two-hour-long debate, Yarbrough took a different tack, claiming that the basic rights of LGBT people victimize anti-LGBT Christians.
"This bill is not about allowing discrimination. This bill is about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith."
Arizona Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar condemned the legislation in a statement released shortly after the vote. It's after the jump.
"SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom. With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation. This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.
"Legislation of this kind has been attempted this year in Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Idaho. Each of those attempts failed after prominent members of the business community spoke against the measures. While our state continues to recover from the public relations nightmare of SB 1070, the Republican supporters of this bill are willing to elicit the inevitable backlash and boycotts that will result from its passage.
"Arizona does not need this bill, Arizonans do not want this bill and there is no place for this bill in our modern society. We have come too far to turn back the clock with such a disgraceful assault on members of our community based on their sexual orientation."
The language in Yarbrough's bill is so broad that it could also potentially allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against other protected groups, including unmarried women and non-Christians.
A companion bill is pending before the Arizona House and could come up for a vote anytime. It reportedly stands a good chance of passing.
Stay tuned, folks: Arizona may soon legalize anti-LGBT discrimination. "Because Jesus" could literally become a valid excuse for refusing service to queers in the Grand Canyon State.