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Updated Feb 26, 2014 - 5:08 pm

Gov. Jan Brewer held meetings over SB 1062

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer held a series of private meetings Wednesday with opponents and proponents of legislation adding protections for people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays, a proposal that has focused national attention on the state as business groups, gay rights supporters and even many fellow Republicans urged her to use her veto power.

Among those meeting with the governor was the bill's primary sponsor, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, who said it was essentially his chance to give a closing argument. He said his efforts were intended to extend the reach of the state's religious-freedom law to businesses and corporations and allow those sued for discrimination to cite the law even when the government isn't a party.A veto would be disappointing, he said.

``It's quality legislation, and there's no good reason at all as far of the merit of this bill to not sign it,'' Yarbrough said. ``This bill does simply, basically, three things ... and that all it does. And it doesn't have anything to do with creating opportunities for discrimination that in any fashion is greater than what exists in the law currently. ``

The bill allows any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination. Supporters call the bill a slight tweak to the state's existing religious freedom law. Arizona does not extend civil -rights protections to people based on sexual orientation.

The governor faces a Saturday deadline to either sign Senate Bill 1062 or use her veto stamp. In a tweet from her official twitter account late Tuesday, the governor said: ``I assure you, as always, I will do the right thing for the State of Arizona.''

Brewer has been under increasing pressure to veto the proposal passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The proposal passed with support from all but three House Republicans and all 17 GOP state senators.

Three of those senators, however, reversed course Monday and called for the governor to veto the Senate Bill 1062. They were among opposition Republican lawmakers meeting with her Wednesday.

``Our position is clear - we think it is a mistake for Arizona to have this controversy, and we would like her to veto the bill,'' said Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa. ``It's very frustrating to her to see what the state's going through. It's very painful.''

Worsley said he believes Brewer will veto the bill, although she made no commitments.

Democrats said they warned Republicans who voted for the bill that it was destined for trouble.

``We said this is exactly what is going to happen,'' said Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. ``You have a bill here that's so toxic it's going to divide this Legislature. It's going to be polarizing the entire state. ``

The bill was pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, a social conservative group that opposes abortion and gay marriage. The group says the proposal simply clarifies existing state law and is needed to protect against increasingly activist federal courts.

``What's happened is our opponents have employed a new political tactic, and it's working,'' said Cathi Herrod, the group's president. ``Throw out the threat of a boycott to attempt to defeat a bill, and you might just be able to be successful.''

Similar religious-protection legislation has been introduced in Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma, yet Arizona's plan is the only one that has passed. But on Wednesday, lawmakers in Ohio withdrew legislation that mirrors the Arizona bill. The efforts are stalled in Idaho and Kansas.

With the business community lining up against the proposal, Brewer could be hard-pressed to sign 1062. She has worked hard to return Arizona's economy to pre-recession levels with business-friendly incentives and tax cuts.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball has issued a statement criticizing legislation in Arizona that if enacted would add protections for people who assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays.

The baseball commissioner's office says ``as the sport of Jackie Robinson, Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs stand united behind the principles of respect, inclusion and acceptance. Those values are fundamental to our game's diverse players, employees and fans. We welcome individuals of different sexual orientations, races, religions, genders and national origins.''

Also on Wednesday, the Hispanic National Bar Association said it was cancelling its 2015 convention in Phoenix because of the proposal, becoming one of the first groups to pull an event from that state. President Miguel Alexander Pozo said the group's board of governors voted unanimously to withdraw. Last year, the Hispanic National Bar Association's convention drew about 2,000 people to Denver.

Among the businesses urging a veto are Apple Inc., which is opening a manufacturing plant in Mesa, American Airlines, Marriott and GoDaddy. Arizona U.S. Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney are also calling for a veto.

As Brewer held her meetings Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia declared Texas' ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, but he left it in place until an appeals court can rule on the case. The ruling in Texas follows a string of rulings that have struck down gay-marriage bans in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia.

A similar suit challenging Arizona's same-sex marriage ban is in its early stages in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

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Associated Press reporter Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Jesse Holland in Washington contributed.

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Follow Bob Christie at http://twitter.com/APChristie

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