Arizona Lawmaker Defends Controversial Religious Freedom Law: ‘The Pillars of Society Are Under Attack’

Sen. Al Melvin also tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper he should considering moving to the Grand Canyon State because “we’re more people-friendly here.”

National Journal
Dustin Volz
Feb. 25, 2014, 3:40 a.m.

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For any­one dis­mayed that a small band of con­ser­vat­ive politi­cians have yet again hi­jacked Ari­zona’s im­age and cast the state as a place of in­tol­er­ance and bigotry, Monday night didn’t help.

In an in­ter­view with CNN’s An­der­son Cooper, Ari­zona State Sen. Al Melvin, a Re­pub­lic­an, spent more than 10 minutes de­fend­ing the law re­cently passed by both cham­bers of the Le­gis­lature that would make it leg­al for busi­nesses, un­der the aus­pices of “sin­cerely held” re­li­gious free­dom, to dis­crim­in­ate against oth­ers, which most ob­serv­ers see as an at­tack on the LGBT com­munity. The back-and-forth verbal spar­ring between Cooper and Melvin is a baff­ling case study of how to duck dif­fi­cult ques­tions, even for cable-news stand­ards. It fea­tured, among oth­er things, an amus­ing dis­cus­sion of what Je­sus would have dis­crim­in­ated against, wheth­er so­ci­ety judges di­vorce, and to what ex­tent the “me­dia frenzy” is to blame for Ari­zona’s once-again tar­nished repu­ta­tion.

“I’m against all dis­crim­in­a­tion, and I want max­im­um re­li­gious free­dom,” Melvin said sev­er­al times. “I know you’re try­ing to set me up and I’m not go­ing to stand for it.”

At one point, Melvin, who is run­ning for gov­ernor this year, avoided one of Cooper’s sev­er­al ques­tions by ex­plain­ing that Amer­ica was un­der siege by in­si­di­ous forces at­tempt­ing to dis­rupt its cul­tur­al fab­ric.

“All of the pil­lars of so­ci­ety are un­der at­tack in the United States,” Melvin said. “The fam­ily, the tra­di­tion­al fam­ily, tra­di­tion­al mar­riage, main­line churches, the Boy Scouts — you name it.”

When Cooper tried to corner Melvin with a series of lo­gic­al ques­tions about how the law could be ap­plied to just about any­body, in­clud­ing un­wed moth­ers or di­vorced people, Melvin replied, “I don’t know of any­body in Ari­zona who would dis­crim­in­ate against an­oth­er hu­man be­ing.”

A clearly shocked Cooper replied: “Really? I know people in New York who do. No one in Ari­zona dis­crim­in­ates?”Melvin stuck to his guns by of­fer­ing Cooper some life ad­vice. “Maybe you should move to Ari­zona; we’re more people-friendly here.”

The full video is worth a watch.

Gov. Jan Brew­er, a Re­pub­lic­an, has un­til Sat­urday to sign or veto the meas­ure, and she has re­mained mum while in­sist­ing that she is still in full-blown de­lib­er­a­tion mode. As it was with the state’s wildly con­tro­ver­sial im­mig­ra­tion law passed in 2010 that made it a state crime to be an il­leg­al im­mig­rant, no one out­side Brew­er’s tight circle has any con­crete in­dic­a­tion as to how she might vote. She ul­ti­mately did sign that law, but the Su­preme Court struck down key sec­tions of it in 2012.

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His­tory, however, sug­gests that Brew­er will ul­ti­mately veto the re­li­gious-free­dom bill, des­pite that pri­or sup­port, which was in large part to se­cure her reelec­tion. Brew­er has fre­quently stood in the way of the state’s exteme con­ser­vat­ives and their agenda, in­clud­ing op­pos­i­tion to Medi­caid ex­pan­sion un­der Obama­care, which she em­braced, or a push to al­low guns on col­lege cam­puses.

As protests con­tin­ue to mount in Ari­zona against the re­li­gious-free­dom le­gis­la­tion, three Re­pub­lic­an state sen­at­ors who voted for it flipped their stances on Monday and said they now be­lieve the meas­ure is ill-con­ceived. Sev­er­al mem­bers of Ari­zona’s con­gres­sion­al del­eg­a­tion, in­clud­ing Sens. John Mc­Cain and Jeff Flake, both Re­pub­lic­ans, have also come out in op­pos­i­tion to the le­gis­la­tion.

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