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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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February 21st, 2014
06:00 PM ET

Arizona law: Religious freedom, or license to discriminate?

(CNN) – A hypothetical: Let's say a gay couple walks into a business, and the owner refuses to serve them. The couple sues and the owner loses, despite his claims that serving a gay couple in his establishment violates his religious beliefs.

Which party was actually discriminated against?

It may not be much of a quandary in Arizona if Republican Governor Jan Brewer signs a controversial bill passed by state lawmakers.

It would allow individuals and businesses to cite their religious beliefs as a defense against lawsuits claiming discrimination.

Supporters of the bill, like the Republicans who passed it in the state legislature, say this protects religious freedom and liberty, and that they must show their belief is being substantially burdened.

They often cite cases like one in New Mexico, when a photographer was sued for refusing to take wedding pictures of a gay couple.

Opponents say it's a license to discriminate against people, especially gays and lesbians who could be denied, say, medical treatment as a result of the law.

The law "would only apply where a person had sincerely held religious beliefs, and the burden is substantial," says Arizona State Representative John Kavanagh. The Republican voted in favor of the bill.

For example, a Roman Catholic priest that refuses to officiate a same-sex marriage, or an Orthodox Jewish physicians refusing to perform an abortion would be protected.

But for hotel owners or waiters who believe homosexuality to be a sin and refuse to serve same-sex couples, "this law would not shield (them) because we're not talking about substantial burdens," said Kavanagh.

For more of our interview with State Rep. John Kavanagh, check out the video above.

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