A bill to allow homophobic discrimination has been passed in the Arizona Senate.

It would allow religious individuals, groups and businesses the right to refuse to serve gay people.

The state’s Republican controlled Senate voted 17-13 in support of the measure on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 1062 would prevent the state from taking action against individuals and businesses who refuse services to people or groups based on their religious beliefs if such enforcement would “substantially burden” the free exercise of their religion.

Democrats have criticised Republicans over the policy.

“SB 1062 permits discrimination under the guise of religious freedom,” Senate Democratic Leader Anna Tovar said in a statement.

“With the express consent of Republicans in this Legislature, many Arizonans will find themselves members of a separate and unequal class under this law because of their sexual orientation.

“This bill may also open the door to discriminate based on race, familial status, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability.”

A similar bill was quashed by a Senate committee in Kansas yesterdayeven though it had already won approval in the state’s House of Representatives.

Arizona has a statute that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The state only legalised same-sex sexual activity in 2001.