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.
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.