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Same-sex marriage push begins in Arizona
Group was waiting for Supreme Court decision before circulating petitions
6/27/2013 6:00:00 AM
By Doug McMurdo
KINGMAN - The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 5-4 decision on Wednesday that declared part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional will have little effect on Arizona's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but efforts to overturn the state prohibition are under way.
President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996. The act defined marriage as valid only between a man and a woman, denying same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples.
In addition to striking down one section of the 17-year-old DOMA, which a majority of the high court found violated gay people's right to equal protection under the law, the Supreme Court also declined to act on California's same-sex marriage ban known as Proposition 8, which a federal district court overturned.
Proponents of the same-sex marriage ban sought to defend Proposition 8 before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled the plaintiffs had no standing and the case could not be heard.
The ruling paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.
Currently, 12 states, three Indian tribes and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage. Those entities can now better define same-sex marriage laws without fear of running into conflicts with the federal ban.
While Wednesday's decision has no bearing on same-sex marriage bans in states such as Arizona, same-sex couples who were legally married in another state will have many of the same federal rights as traditionally married couples, regardless of where they live.
Those rights are considerable, providing same-sex couples with more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits ranging from taxes to immigration, from Social Security benefits to hospital visitations to insurance.
The conservative Center for Arizona Policy disagrees with the high court's decision in DOMA, although, like Ward, the group does see it as a victory for states' rights.
Equal Marriage Arizona, a group with politically conservative leadership, hopes DOMA provides momentum in the effort to legalize same-sex unions in the Grand Canyon state.
In 2008, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that, like DOMA, defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
On June 17, Equal Marriage Arizona filed a petition initiative that, if ultimately approved by voters, would strike the term "a man and a woman" and replace it with "two persons" in the state's constitutional definition of marriage.
"We did that in anticipation of what the Supreme Court might do," said Erin Ogletree Simpson, a retired Tucson lawyer and the co-chair of Equal Marriage Arizona.
"The upshot of DOMA getting struck down is that it will allow states to address the marriage issue," said Ogletree Simpson, who described herself as a gay conservative Republican.
A key element of the effort, said Ogletree Simpson, is that if passed, the amendment would specifically protect religious organizations from being forced to perform marriage rites for unions they oppose.
"This is all about personal liberty," said Ogletree Simpson, who also serves as chairwoman of Arizona Log Tree Republicans. "We feel religious freedom is just as important as individual freedom."
Phoenix businessman and libertarian Warren Meyer is Ogletree Simpson's co-chair. In a statement released the day the petition was filed, he said the language is "straightforward and sensible."
So what has happened since 2008 that leads them to think Arizonans have changed their minds about same-sex marriage?
According to Ogletree Simpson, the nation's attitude about same-sex marriage has rapidly changed the last few years even among conservatives, who increasingly see it as a matter of individual liberty.
While Ogletree Simpson and Meyer are politically on the right, Equal Marriage Arizona's membership will rapidly be filled by people with a wide range of political ideology, from the left and the right, liberal and conservative, she said.
Ogletree Simpson said response from the public has been enthusiastic in terms both emotional and financial. More than $100,000 has been raised since the petition was filed 10 days ago. About 260,000 eligible voters must sign the petition if it is to appear on the 2014 ballot.
The state's 2008 gay marriage ban passed with 56 percent of the vote. More recently, Bisbee became the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples in April. Tempe and several other cities later said they are considering similar civil union ordinances.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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