Arizona 'anti-gay' bill sparks protests in two cities

Protesters at the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix on 21 February 2014 Protesters at the state capitol in Phoenix held signs with messages such as "What About Love Thy Neighbor?"

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Protests have been held in Arizona against the state's passage of a bill allowing business owners to refuse service to gays on religious grounds.

Hundreds rallied for demonstrations in the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, a day after the bill was approved.

Republican Governor Jan Brewer has not yet said if she will sign the bill into law. A decision is expected next week.

Similar legislation has been introduced in seven other US states, but Arizona is the only one to pass it.

Supporters have said the bill protects First Amendment rights for expression of religious beliefs.

'Bunch of demagogues'

About 250 protesters gathered outside the state capitol in Phoenix on Friday afternoon.

Protesters at the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix on 21 February 2014 Some business owners are reportedly concerned the bill could provoke a boycott

They held signs with messages such as "What About Love Thy Neighbor?"

Meanwhile, more than 200 demonstrators marched in Tucson to the governor's office, the Arizona Daily Star newspaper reports.

The legislation, SB 1062, was passed late on Thursday despite strong objections by state Democrats, who said it would clearly allow discrimination against gays.

All but three Republicans in the state legislature voted in favour of the proposal.

"This is coming out of left field... from a bunch of demagogues who don't care about Arizona's future," Greater Phoenix Economic Council President Barry Broome told the Associated Press news agency.

"I think the political consequences are [going to] be greater than people might think," he added.

Governor Brewer, a conservative, has faced pressure from the business community to veto the bill, particularly to avoid distracting from the state's hosting of the 2015 Super Bowl.

But the state leader has also reportedly been pushed to sign by social conservatives who supported the religious-rights bill, claiming it is only a modest update on the state's existing religious freedom law.

"It's alien to me that a business owner can't reflect his faith in his business," Republican state representative John Allen, who supported the bill, told the Associated Press news agency.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer appeared in Phoenix, Arizona, on 2 December 2013 Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is expected to either sign or veto the bill next week

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