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7:11 PM Sun, Feb. 17th

Couple wanted same-sex union to take place in Arizona

PHOENIX (AP) – Thousands of same-sex couples have married in California, Oregon and New York in recent months, producing court cases centering on one of the hottest social issues in the country.

But even before that, the same issue was already in Arizona's state court system because of a same-sex Phoenix couple's desire to formalize their union, something they're denied under current state law.

Though many of the people who got married in places like San Francisco were from outside California, Don Standhardt and Tod Keltner said that wasn't for them.

"We're Arizonans," Standhardt said.

"That's why we're doing our case in Arizona."

Said Keltner: "We're rooted here.

We want to have our (adopted) children here."

The 34-year-old Standhardt and the 37-year-old Keltner asked the Arizona Supreme Court on Dec.

8 to review a Court of Appeals decision that upheld Arizona's 8-year-old state law prohibiting same-sex marriages.

While their lawsuit initially emphasized a U.S.

Supreme Court ruling that overturned a Texas law against gay sex, the latest appeal focuses on state constitutional issues.

The couple's appeal argues that the Supreme Court should hear the case because barring same-sex couples from civil marriage constitutes "destructive discrimination" against the couples and their children in violation of state constitutional rights of privacy and equal treatment under the law.

The potential consequences of that discrimination could include someone being denied the chance to see a hospitalized partner or participate in health-care decisions, or to recover damages following a partner's death, the appeal said.

"It is no answer that same-sex couples could avoid some of these harsh results through individually drafted legal instruments," the appeal argues.

"These are expensive, time consuming and complicated solutions, and even when such documents are drafted, they are subject to legal challenge by relatives of the deceased partner."

The Court of Appeals held that there is no fundamental constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

It found that the state has a rational basis for prohibiting same-sex marriages because of goals related to procreation and child-rearing.

The couple's appeal disputes that, saying the fact that Arizona permits marriages between first cousins who cannot procreate "proves the procreation ability is not related to marriage" under state law.

The Attorney General's Office has urged the Supreme Court to turn away the appeal and allow the Court of Appeals ruling to stand.

"The refusal to redefine marriage is based on legislative policies, not animus," Assistant Attorney General Kathleen P.

Sweeney wrote.

Social conservatives are also weighing in.

A recent Massachusetts Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a right under the state constitution to the benefits of marriage "ignored the actual argument that marriage has traditionally been accorded legal status because it is the optimal situation for procreation and child rearing, i.e.

that marriage is about protecting children," lawyers for the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious-rights group, argued in a brief filed on behalf of a state senator.

Marriage, the brief added, "is not about procreation itself, but about the ideal setting for procreation and child rearing."

Since filing their suit last July, Standhardt and Keltner – co-owners of a travel agency – have become more active in gay-rights activities, including speaking to groups concerned about the issue, Standhardt said.

"After taking this case, we started getting more politically involved," he said.

Legal filings in the case were completed in mid-February.

Since then, the case has not appeared on agendas for private conferences during which Supreme Court justices decide whether they will accept appeals for review.