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Updated Feb 21, 2014 - 9:16 pm

Opponents of Arizona bill targeting gays protest at capitol

PHOENIX -- An estimated 250 people who gathered at the Arizona Capitol demanded Gov. Jan Brewer veto legislation that would allow business owners to refuse to serve gays by citing their religious beliefs.

Friday afternoon's protests come a day after the House passed a bill pushed by conservative Republicans that adds protections from discrimination lawsuits to individuals and businesses.

The Senate passed the same bill on Wednesday. Gov. Jan Brewer must sign or veto Senate Bill 1062 by the end of next week.

Protesters held signs that read "No religion should be for discrimination" and "What about 'love thy neighbor'?" They repeatedly chanted "veto this bill."

Republicans say the law is needed to protect people who have legitimate religious objections to gay marriage. Democrats argue it will be a license to discriminate.

Jesus Castro-Byrd, who attended the protest with his husband, said the bill was going to hurt Arizona's economy and reputation. Like many others, he said Arizona already suffered too many consequences when it passed immigration crack-down law Senate Bill 1070.

"We have to voice our rights and stand up for what we believe," he said.

Cheri White said she jumped in the car with her daughter and two grandchildren when she learned of the protest. The family drove from Cornville, Ariz., near Sedona, to attend.

White said the bill was discriminatory and that she didn't want her grandchildren to grow up with it.

"We want them to be able to be free and happy," she said.

Social conservatives and libertarian-minded members of the GOP believe the legislation protects the First Amendment rights of business owners who are expressing their religious beliefs.

The new legislation was passed over the shrill objections of Democrats who said it was clearly designed to allow discrimination against gays. All but three Republicans in the Legislature voted in favor of the bill.

In Tucson, more than 200 people listened to protest speeches Friday afternoon and then marched to Brewer's local office in the state office building.

The rally and march was organized by Wingspan, southern Arizona's nonprofit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center.

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