A protest against the bill at the Arizona Capitol.

A protest against the bill at the Arizona Capitol. Photo: AP

Tucson, Arizona: Some Arizona business owners, still smarting from boycotts launched after the state passed a sweeping anti-illegal-immigration law, are trying to fend off a possible backlash from a new piece of legislation that has the gay community and its supporters in an uproar.

Some businesses have taken to social media, saying that even if the bill does become law, they will welcome LGBT customers.

The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, is designed to bolster a business owner's right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion.

The Arizona bill, SB 1062, is similar to proposals in other states, including ones that failed in Kansas and Idaho. Another is under consideration in Utah.

The legislation comes as support for same-sex marriage is gaining momentum in the courts, and on the heels of two cases in which state courts sided with gay couples in wedding-related lawsuits. In New Mexico, for example, the state Supreme Court allowed a gay couple to sue a photographer who refused to photograph their commitment ceremony.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, on Friday told CNN that SB 1062 was a "very controversial piece of legislation. We know that. We know that it's failed in a lot of states across the country." Ms Brewer said she would likely decide by February 28 whether to support the bill.

"But it's very controversial, so I've got to get my hands around it," she said.

Opponents, including Democratic lawmakers and gay-rights groups, describe the bill as unconstitutional, discriminatory and divisive.

They say it's another black eye for Arizona, which is still trying to recover from the repercussions of SB 1070, the immigration bill that Ms Brewer signed into law in 2010. A study by a liberal think tank, the Washington DC-based Centre for American Progress, estimated that conventions cancelled after the law's passage cost Arizona more than $US23 million in lost tax revenue and at least $US350 million in direct spending by would-be attendees.

Proponents of SB 1062 say the bill is being misrepresented. They stress that it's not a discriminatory bill but instead is intended to protect religious freedom - rights that "must be respected", said Republican Senator Steve Yarbrough, who introduced the measure.

The Centre for Arizona Policy, a conservative group that helped craft the bill, said some business owners would stand to benefit from the measure.

"The reality is the attacks against the bill have been so over the top, businesses don't want to face the attacks from the opponents of the bill for speaking out in favour of it," said organisation spokesman Aaron Baer.

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council urged Ms Brewer via Twitter to veto the bill. Four companies have told the council that they may leave Arizona if the bill passes, according to a letter the group sent to the governor.

"With major events approaching in the coming year, including Super Bowl XLIX, Arizona will be the centre of the world's stage," the letter stated. "This legislation has the potential of subjecting the Super Bowl, and major events surrounding it, to the threats of boycotts."

If the legislation becomes law, the group said, it will "likely have profound, negative effects on our business community for years to come".

In Sonoita in southern Arizona, Shannon Austin Zouzoulas said she was shocked to hear about the measure's passage on Thursday. She and her sister run a winery and brewery called AZ Hops and Vines and her first customers that day were a lesbian couple. They too were shocked, she said, and customers couldn't stop talking about it.

"It stuck with me all day. It's crazy and insane and it's bad," Ms Zouzoulas said on Friday morning. "Last night I was just at home and said, 'You know what, I'm just going to make a stand.' "

That's when she posted a photo of a wine glass with a rainbow-coloured liquid swirling inside. "Arizona Hops and Vines loves ALL our customers!" she wrote below the picture.

Ms Zouzoulas called the bill embarrassing and said it does not accurately represent her state. "I think it's very little about pro-business," she said. "I think it's pro-hate."

Rocco DiGrazia, who owns Rocco's Little Chicago Pizzeria in Tucson, took the issue a step further. He printed out a sign with an Arizona flag, emblazoned with the following: "We Reserve The Right to Refuse Service to Arizona Legislators."

Mr DiGrazia, who describes himself as "snarky" but "not a social activist", posted the picture on his restaurant's Facebook page on Thursday.

Since then, the photo has spread on Twitter and Facebook. Some customers even said they had come into his eatery because of the picture, he said.

Los Angeles Times