"Nice shirt, nice shoes, no service."
That was comedian Seth Meyers' prediction of the signs businesses will soon be posting in Arizona to keep out gay customers. The state legislature passed a bill that allows business owners to turn away gay people if serving them violates their religious beliefs.
The last opportunity to keep the measure from taking effect falls to Governor Jan Brewer, who has until Saturday to decide whether to veto it. You probably shouldn't put money on a veto by Brewer, an arch-conservative famous for shaking her finger in President Barack Obama’s face on the tarmac at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport two years ago. Brewer has been at the forefront of some of the most anti-gay legislation in the country. She supported a ban on same-sex marriage that passed in 2008. She repealed legislation put in place by former Governor Janet Napolitano that granted domestic-partner rights for state employees.
But this time she has to contend with the clout of business interests, which have waded in and are opposing the bill.
American Airlines Group Inc., Apple Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc., Marriott International Inc. and PetSmart Inc. to name a few, are urging Brewer to block it. Also weighing in against the bill are Arizona’s two Republican senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake. And last night, Mitt Romney tweeted that it should be vetoed.
This demonstrates a lot of gay power -- but with an asterisk. Gays would like to win on the merits, to be able to walk into any biker bar in Tucson and order a beer, secure in the knowledge they are protected by the Constitution. Instead, if they win this time, it will be because of cold, hard commerce.
Sure, some companies want to be on the right side of history. Many more, though, want to be on the right side of the balance sheet, and entice paying customers of any stripe.
Arizona was one of the last states to decide to observe Martin Luther King Day. It wasn’t until the National Football League weighed in threatening to boycott the state for the Super Bowl in 1993 that it came around. The NFL is holding a similar club over the state’s head now. Super Bowl XLIX is slated to be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale on Feb. 1, 2015. If Brewer signs the anti-gay bill, many of the businesses could boycott the games and the NFL may pull the Super Bowl from the state. That’s a lot of money to forego, and would bring the kind of publicity that could hurt Arizona for years to come.
Brewer is taking her time. Like all politicians, she loves the attention. I bet you an artist’s weekend in Sedona touring the galleries, however, that she vetoes the bill. Even she doesn’t want to be remembered for losing the Super Bowl.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist.)
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