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Pressure mounts on Arizona governor to veto bill dubbed anti-gay

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Pressure mounted on Arizona's governor on Tuesday to veto a controversial bill described by critics as anti-gay, with at least two advisers to Republican Jan Brewer saying they had urged her to nix the measure.

Brewer has yet to say publicly whether she will sign or veto the bill, which would allow businesses to refuse service to customers if doing otherwise would violate their deeply held religious beliefs.

Two of her advisers reached by Reuters said they had both urged her to veto the measure, with one saying her track record on such issues made him think she would lean in that direction. But both stressed no decision had been taken.

"We had a vigorous discussion, and I said that she should veto the bill," longtime adviser Chuck Coughlin said in an interview, declining to reveal further details about the private conversation. "She will let everyone know when she makes up her mind."

Another senior adviser, Doug Cole, said he also urged a veto and that the governor planned to sit down on Wednesday with groups from both sides to hear their perspectives on the issue. Brewer has until Saturday to sign the bill into law or veto it.

The bill drew the ire of civil liberties groups and concerns from the business community when it cleared the state legislature last week, with opponents saying it amounted to a license to discriminate against gays and others at a time when same-sex marriage activists have notched several court victories in recent months.

Seventeen U.S. states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.

Arizona is among more than 30 states that still ban gay or lesbian couples from marrying.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

Under the bill, a business would have a defense against a discrimination lawsuit if a decision to deny service was motivated by a "sincerely held" religious belief and if providing service would substantially burden the exercise of those religious beliefs.

The bill has drawn criticism from U.S. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who in his most expansive remarks on the issue so far said efforts to pass the bill could damage the state's reputation and economy.

"Unfortunately, it hurts the image of our state," he told CNN television on Tuesday, citing the strong response from Arizona business leaders, including the state's Chamber of Commerce, criticizing the measure.

"This is going to hurt the state of Arizona's economy, and frankly, our image. So, I hope that the governor of Arizona will veto this and we move on," he said, adding that he has not talked directly with Brewer about the proposal.

The measure is being pushed by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, which helped write the proposal and says it has been wrongly characterized and actually aims at protecting the religious rights of all.

Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said high-tech giant Apple Inc had also requested a veto in a conversation with the governor over the weekend. Three Republican state Senators said on Monday they had reconsidered their support for the bill, and urged a veto.

Apple has announced plans to open a manufacturing facility in Arizona that is expected to employ 700 workers in partnership with mineral crystal specialist GT Advanced Technologies Inc.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Jonathan Oatis)

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