The writing was on the wall all week. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer had no choice but to veto SB 1062, which would have let businesses discriminate against gay patrons (and presumably others) on religious grounds. The veto was demanded by businesses: from the NFL, sponsors of the Arizona-bound 2015 Super Bowl, to Apple to American Airlines to JPMorgan Chase. Even GOP lawmakers who voted for the bill began quailing and taking back their votes shortly after casting them.
Brewer, who has shown independence from her Tea Party base before, particularly on accepting Medicaid expansion, proved to be up to this challenge, too.
The Arizona Tea Party governor vetoed the bill, she said, because of its “unexpected and unintended consequences. The legislation seeks to protect businesses,” she wrote, “yet the business community overwhelmingly opposes the proposed law.” The bill, she said, “could create more problems than it purports to solve.”
Indeed. The proposed Arizona law shows how quickly America’s corporate leaders, and even some Republicans, have counted dollars and counted votes and realized that power lies with gay people and their straight allies who can’t stand anti-gay bigotry – and won’t patronize those who are selling it.
Even as Arizona Republican politicians like Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake declared their enduring fealty to the sanctity of man-woman marriage, they could oppose SB 1062 because of the business backlash. This is a stunning turnaround from 10 years ago, when Karl Rove encouraged Republicans to put anti-gay-marriage measures on state ballots to turn out the right and buoy George W. Bush’s reelection against John Kerry in 2004. There was no downside for Rove 10 years ago.
That was the same year that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom became persona non grata even to some Democrats for legalizing gay marriage in San Francisco. From Dianne Feinstein to Barney Frank, Newsom got pummeled for promoting too much gay freedom too soon. But just 10 years later, a far-right governor of a changing but still conservative state thinks she has to veto this gay Jim Crow law that businesses are smart enough to oppose.
Let’s celebrate. But let’s also look plainly at how Democrats have won the culture war but are still fighting a grim conflict over economic populism – including, sometimes, against other Democrats. I look forward to the day when businesses lobby for a hike in the minimum wage and universal preschool and higher tax rates for those at the very top, and Republicans like Jan Brewer face the fact that they have to relent. It may be a long time coming. But let this victory remind us what a difference even 10 years can make, on an issue that was once a loser for Democrats. May we catch up on issues of poverty, income inequality and economic opportunity just as quickly.