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Veto of anti-gay legislation is a victory for tolerance

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer made the right move Wednesday night in vetoing a bill that would have granted business owners the right to invoke religion in refusing service to gays and others.

If the bill had become law, Arizona would have become known across the nation – no, make that the world – as a pillar of discrimination. It’s that simple.

Those who want to discriminate had made the conversation more complicated by defending such discrimination as a matter of religious freedom. Hogwash. The religion argument was rank discrimination when it was used to support slavery, and it’s wrong now. The Arizona legislation was a license to discriminate.

Brewer had been under heavy pressure from major corporations and politicians from both parties to veto the bill, which touched off a furious debate over gay rights.

This ugly piece of legislation deserved a veto not because it would have been bad for business in Arizona, but because it was the morally right thing to do. Brewer didn’t need to use as an excuse the need to avoid economic fallout.

Criticism came from Apple, which has plans to build a big manufacturing plant in Mesa and urged her to reject the bill. And from the chief executive of American Airlines, telling her that there is “concern throughout the business community.” And especially from the possibility that the NFL could move next year’s Super Bowl out of the state. Arizona saw that happen two decades ago after the state refused to pass legislation recognizing the Martin Luther King holiday and the NFL moved the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix to Pasadena.

Leaders in other states where the discrimination storm is brewing hotter should follow Brewer’s lead.

Similar religious protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Kansas, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma. Arizona’s bill was the only one that had won legislative approval so far.

Those backing the Arizona legislation camouflaged their bias by citing the potential religious objections of business owners, such as photographers or florists who would deny service for a same-sex wedding they oppose on moral grounds. Or a restaurant owner who refuses service to an openly gay couple. Any of that sound familiar? It should. The civil rights movement fought for decades to end such discrimination.

Arizona has had a complicated record on tolerance. Brewer, a Republican, went along with conservatives in what amounted to racial profiling of Hispanic drivers. That was wrong. She has signed bills that stripped Planned Parenthood of Medicaid funding. Wrong. Denied health benefits for the domestic partners of state employees. Wrong. And gave preference to married heterosexual couples in the adoption process. So wrong.

But the state did eventually recognize the King holiday. And Brewer, who is restricted by term limits from running for re-election, to her credit took much heat last spring when she campaigned to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. And a few years ago, she vetoed the state’s version of the “birther bill,” which would have required presidential candidates to prove their citizenship in order to get on the state’s ballot.

In some cases the governor has shown she knows right from wrong. This was one of them.