The Fight for Dignity for All in Arizona

Over the last several days, Arizona once again became the focal point in the struggle for civil and human rights. Fortunately, Governor Jan Brewer made the right decision to veto legislation that would allow owners and employees of businesses to deny services to members of the LGBTQ community if providing the services would infringe upon the former's religious beliefs. In reality, this legislation simply would have resulted in sanctioned discrimination by private business owners -- a throwback to when businesses could deny services to African Americans, Latinos, and others.

Immigrants' rights advocates like me got a strong sense of déjà vu this week. Four years ago, SB 1070, legislation designed to make life miserable for immigrants and those a person might "suspect" could be foreign, sat on the governor's desk for several days until she signed that misguided -- and unconstitutional -- piece of legislation into law.

The consequences of SB 1070 were immediate and painful. Arizonans of color, native-born and immigrant alike, were harassed as they went about their daily lives. We at the National Immigration Law Center, along with allies, filed a class action lawsuit to prevent the worst elements of the law from taking effect. We're still fighting this civil rights battle in court today.

Governor Brewer's decision to sign SB 1070 into law had economic consequences as well. In the months after SB 1070 was signed into law, Arizona lost an estimated $141 million. Business leaders, including the president of the state's chamber of commerce, have issued even more dire predictions about what might befall Arizona's economy if SB 1062 is enacted.

Arizona's Latino and Asian American community already know what it feels like to bear the brunt of state-sanctioned discrimination. A plaintiff in our case against SB 1070, Jim Shee, is an Arizona native of Spanish and Chinese descent who has long been an active member of his community. In the weeks following SB 1070's enactment, however, he was made to feel unwelcome, as police repeatedly stopped him to demand his "papers."

No one -- regardless of the color of your skin, the way you speak English, or whom you love -- should be made to feel inferior to his or her neighbors. Sadly, in Arizona, members of the LGBTQ community are already not afforded any protection from discrimination in the workplace or elsewhere. SB 1062 would have provided people with the perverse incentive to encourage discrimination, by allowing a loan officer, for example, to reject a loan application simply because she doesn't approve of the applicant's partner.

While national Republican leaders who supported SB 1070 came out publicly against SB 1062 and urged Governor Brewer to veto it, she already missed an opportunity to take a strong stand against homophobia by vetoing this hateful piece of legislation the moment it reached her desk. The fact remains that a majority of Arizona legislators thought this was good policy and supported it. Will this legislation embolden private actors to discriminate against those individuals they perceive to be gay, just the way state anti-immigrant laws have emboldened people to harass and discriminate against people of color they perceive to be undocumented?

Today, I am thankful that there is one less discriminatory law on the books, but let's not be naïve: efforts like this will continue. Arizona has proven to be an outlier, and some policymakers seem intent on finding new ways to discriminate and chip away at our constitutional rights. This is why we must all remain vigilant and speak out against discrimination of any and all types.

A note to state and federal policymakers: We, the growing "new majority" of Americans -- including women, people of color, immigrants, youth, and people who are LGTBQ -- and all those, past and present, who have borne the pain of legally sanctioned discrimination, will be watching. We are your neighbors, colleagues, and family-members. We have considerable spending power. And, in ever-increasing numbers, we vote.

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