The day after Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed a controversial law which would have made it legal for business owners to turn away gay customers, one of the state’s most public figures took sides on the matter in a characteristically blunt manner. Charles Barkley, a longtime Arizona resident and former Phoenix Suns basketball star, was asked to speak on the signing of openly gay player Jason Collins. Barkley drew immediate contrast between the signing and the veto, stating “It’s ironic that we’ve got these idiots in Arizona” supporting the anti-gay legislation even as the rest of the nation is moving forward. He went on to praise Brewer for her veto, and suggested he may move out of Arizona due to the state’s history of civil rights snafus from the current anti-gay legislation to the state’s earlier refusal to recognize Martin Luther King Day.
Barkley was speaking on the TNT pre-game show ahead of the Knicks-Heat game Thursday night. He often shares his opinions in a manner more direct than his co-hosts, and his rant toward his home state of Arizona was no different. The legislation had posited that business owners have the right to turn away any potential customer, even in a publicly accessible business such as a restaurant, if their “sincerely held religious beliefs” prevented them from doing so.
Brewer, a conservative republican whose own party introduced the law into the state legislature to begin with, came under nationwide pressure to veto the law from various business interests. The NFL publicly suggested it might relocate the 2015 Super Bowl out of Arizona if the law were signed, while various reports placed companies ranging from Apple to American Airlines as threatening to cut back their business interests in the state. But none of them spoke as brashly on the matter as Charles Barkley, who went on to endorse the Jason Collins signing, pointing out that every NBA player has likely had a gay teammate at one time or another during their career, even if he was in the closet. That’s evidenced by the fact that Collins played twelve years in the NBA before coming out as gay.