PHOENIX — State lawmakers won't make discrimination against gays illegal — even if the employer is government.

SB 1225 fell one vote short Wednesday of the 16 necessary for final approval. Sen. Elaine Richardson, D-Tucson, said she will try to get at least one lawmaker to reconsider and allow the measure to advance.

Richardson said she is particularly disheartened because she narrowed the scope of the bill significantly since it was introduced in January. Not only did she agree to continue to allow private companies and even labor organizations to discriminate, she even added language that employers can have a dress code that, in essence, requires men to dress like men and women to dress like women.

The measure picked up the support of Sen. John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff.

But foes said the legislation was still too broad, potentially opening up government agencies, universities and schools to all sorts of lawsuits.

The measure would make it illegal for a public employer to fire or refuse to hire or otherwise discriminate against someone in compensation due to that person's "sexual orientation or gender identity." The bill specifically states that it does not require that a less-qualified person be given preference.

Richardson said the battle is akin to the civil rights struggle of blacks in the 1960s and the efforts on behalf of migrant workers a decade later. She said it is wrong for someone to be denied equal employment status "because they do not fit into a mold of what some people think is appropriate."

Sen. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said Richardson is wrong to try to cloak this issue in the fabric of civil rights protections and then chide those who do not support the legislation.

"Tolerance does not require abandoning one's standards or one's opinions on political or public choices, especially policy choices," he said. "Tolerance is a way of reacting to diversity, not a command to insulate it from examination."

Sen. Jay Blanchard, D-Gilbert, said the issue is simpler than that.

He said any law that makes it illegal to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation means that anyone who is fired or not promoted would have a cause of action — whether gay or straight.

The legislation defines "sexual orientation" as "affectional, emotional or physical attraction to persons of the same or opposite gender or to persons of both genders, by inclination, practice, identity or expression." It also includes those who are perceived by others as fitting that definition.

— Arizona Daily Sun

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