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Arizona’s Senate has voted 17-13 to approve a bill allowing businesses to refuse service to gays based on religious beliefs.

The 17-13 vote along party lines, with Republicans in the majority, came after supporters defeated an attempt to extend existing employment laws that bar discrimination based on religion and race to also include sexual orientation. Sen. Steve Yarbrough (pictured), R-Chandler, said that’s a separate issue from what he is trying to do.

But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said that’s precisely the issue.

“The bill opens the door for discrimination against gays and lesbians,” he said.

Yarbrough, however, said foes of SB 1062 are twisting what his legislation says.

“This bill is not about discrimination,” he said. “It’s about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”

Over the last couple of years, as same sex couples have been given the right to marry, Christian business (and some non-Christian) owners are disturbed at the fact that they have to provide same sex couples services that they provide to heterosexual customers. There have been several reports of business owners refusing to bake cakes, allow same sex couples to patronize their bed and breakfasts, as well as refusing to provide floral services.Some have refused these services under the guise of their “conscience” not allowing them to.

According to the bill, “SB 1062 would allow businesses sued in a civil case to claim they have a legal right to not provide service to an individual or group because it would “substantially burden’’ their freedom of religion.”

Read the text of the bill here.

The House is set to vote on a matching bill imminently.

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