Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, has vetoed a bill which would have allowed business owners to turn away gay customers on religious grounds. Last year, she vetoed a similar measure.

After discussions with supporters and opponents of the Bill on Wednesday afternoon, she said, ‘It could divide Arizona in ways we cannot even imagine and nobody could ever want.’

She said that it ‘does not address a specific and present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona. I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business owner’s religious liberty has been violated.

‘I call them like I see them despite the cheers or the boos from the crowd. I took the necessary time to make the right decision, I met or spoke with my attorneys, lawmakers and citizens supporting and opposing this legislation.

‘To the supporters of this legislation, I want you to know I understand that long-held norms about marriage and family are being challenged as never before. Our society is undergoing many dramatic changes. However I sincerely believe that Senate bill 1062 has the potential to create more problems than it purports to solve.’

Loud cheers were heard outside the Arizona parliament building as the governor announced the veto. Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona, told the BBC the veto was ‘a clear message for those trying to use religion and those with right-leaning rhetoric that we’re done… we’re tired and we’re done with being discriminated against.’

Human Rights Watch had previous called for the veto, saying that if it had passed, it would have been the first in the USA that would permit businesses to refuse services to LGBT people based on a person’s ‘sincerely held religious belief’.

Arizona law does not protect people against discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, although the cities of Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson have passed local ordinances prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The new law would have allowed businesses and individuals to refuse services to LGBT people, as well as those who are perceived to be LGBT

Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee and Oklahoma are all seeking to introduce similar legislation.

Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, said: ‘The law would have set back progress established by landmark US civil rights cases, which prohibited places of public accommodation from refusing services based upon an individual’s race, sex, colour, religion or national origin.’

The NFL had earlier refused to rule out a move of the Super Bowl sports event, which was due to be held in Arizona at the University of Phoenix Stadium. ‘Our policies emphasise tolerance and inclusiveness, and prohibit discrimination based on age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other improper standard,’ the NFL said in a statement issued to Albert Breer of NFL Network. ‘We are following the issue in Arizona and will continue to do so should the bill be signed into law.’