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Arizona governor expected to announce decision on bill critics call anti-gay

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PHOENIX Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, under mounting pressure to veto a bill derided by critics as a license to discriminate against gays in the name of religion, met on Wednesday with politicians on both sides of the issue, and was expected to announce a decision later in the day.

Her office said she planned to make a statement at 5:45 p.m. local time concerning the bill, which would allow business owners to cite personal religious beliefs as legal grounds for refusing to serve same-sex couples or any other prospective customers.

The expected announcement came hours after Major League Baseball and the National Football Leaguejoined a growing chorus of business organizations denouncing or expressing strong reservations about the legislation.

Echoing calls for Arizona boycotts previously stirred by Brewer's support for tough measures to clamp down on illegal immigration, the Hispanic National Bar Association also said on Wednesday that its board voted unanimously to pull its annual convention from Phoenix in light of last week's passage of 1062.

The measure gained final approval from the Republican-controlled state legislature last Thursday, putting Brewer at the center of a contentious political debate at a time when she has sought to ease partisan discord while focusing on efforts to revive Arizona's economy.

The political right has hailed the newly passed Arizona bill as a necessary defense of religious freedom while the left denounces it as a form of state-sanctioned discrimination.

Brewer spent much of the day on Wednesday in a series of meetings with several Republicans, including the bill's chief sponsor, Senator Steve Yarbrough, and at least one of three other senators who initially backed the legislation but later urged the governor to veto it.

She also met with a number of business leaders, including Glenn Hamer, head of the state Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has urged a veto.

Brewer has until Saturday to veto or sign the bill. If she takes no action, the measure will automatically take effect 91 days after the end of the current legislative session.

Under the measure, a business would be immune to a discrimination lawsuit if a decision to deny service was motivated by "sincerely held" religious beliefs and if providing service would burden exercising of those beliefs.

But many critics, some from her own party, have said the measure could undermine Arizona's image and damage its economy. Among those have been two close outside advisers and the two U.S. senators fromArizona, both Republicans.

A number of large U.S. corporations such as Apple Inc and American Airlines have similarly weighed in.

The measure surfaced following a string of federal court victories by gay activists seeking to strike down restrictions on same-sex marriage in several states, including New MexicoUtahKentucky and Virginia.

Seventeen U.S. states and the District of Columbia now recognize gay marriage in a trend that has gained momentum since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that legally married same-sex couples nationwide are eligible for federal benefits.

Arizona is among more than 30 states that still ban gay or lesbian couples from marrying.

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