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Religious freedom bill riles gay rights supporters

By By BOB CHRISTIE

PHOENIX (AP) — The Arizona House has passed a Republican-backed bill that expands the rights of people to assert their religious beliefs in refusing service to gays and others.

Democrats and civil rights groups opposed the measure, saying it would allow discriminatory actions by businesses.

The House approved the bill on a 33-27 vote Thursday afternoon, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in opposition. The state Senate passed the bill after nearly two hours of debate a day earlier on a straight 17-13 party-line vote.

House Bill 2153 allows people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense against claims of discrimination.

Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough says his bill is a First Amendment issue. Democrats say it is an outright attack on the rights of gays and lesbians.

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