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Gay Marriage Ballot Wars Heat Up in Ariz.

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 5, 2008

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain has said that states should have the right to decide on their own whether or not to allow gay and lesbian families the right to marry.

As if in affirmation of that stance, McCain's home state of Arizona is preparing to vote--for the second time--on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, if approved, would place marriage equality out of the reach of gays and lesbians as a matter of bedrock law.

The first time the measure went before voters, in 2006, it was voted down, though not because voters felt compelled to defend the rights of gay and lesbian families.

Rather, a campaign to educate straight voters as to the economic impact the measure would have on their own domestic arrangements was credited with turning voters against the proposition.

Now, the amendment targeting gay and lesbian families is back once more, in a narrower form that does not seek to deprive unmarried couples of domestic partnership benefits.

The new version of the amendment limits its scope to marriage, even thought the state already has a law against marriage equality for gays and lesbians on the books.

The state's Catholic bishops are pushing hard to see that the measure passes this year.

As reported in a Sept. 5 article published by the Arizona Daily Star both of the state's Catholic bishops have issued instructions to Ariz. Catholics to vote for the amendment this Nov.

The bishops, Gerald Kicanas and Thomas Olmstead, co-authored a letter to Catholic congregants in the state in which they claimed that the anti-gay-family amendment, Proposition 102, "is in alignment with our deeply held moral beliefs regarding marriage."

The bishops also warned that the amendment was necessary, since without it the state's judicial system might one day rule that withholding marriage equality from gay and lesbian families is unconstitutional on the basis that it is discriminatory, thus setting aside the state's existing law reserving marriage as a special right exclusive to heterosexuals.

Bishop Kicanas defended his and Olmstead's actions, which could be construed by some as improperly political for a religious institution that operates free of a tax burden.

The Arizona Star quoted Kicanas as saying, "The church has always and will continue to address issues especially that are related to moral and ethical principles."

Added Kicanas, "We believe that marriage is a sacred relationship, that it is at the heart and core of society."

The article did not include an explanation as to why marriage between two individuals of the same gender would be less sacred or less crucial to society.

Defending the anti-gay-family position as one shared by other faiths, Kicanas cited the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America as having declared that the Jewish faith "affirms marriage only between a man and woman."

Concluded Kicanas, "So it's not a denominational question as much as it's a societal question, because marriage is at the core and heart of our society."

Other branches of Judaism are supportive of marriage equality; for that matter, not all Christian denominations share the bishops' objection to marriage equality. The article cited Methodist minister David Felten, who is against denying gay and lesbian families equality under the law.

Felten was quoted as saying, "People have got this idea that they can speak for God and speak universally for all Christians."

The Catholic bishops did not limit their political activity regarding the issue to issuing instructions to their congregants; the bishops also employ a lobbyist, Ron Johnson, whom they tasked with convincing state lawmakers to put the measure on the ballot, despite an earlier version of the amendment having failed at the ballot box once before.

Kincanas stated unapologetically, "The purpose of this proposition is to assure the fact that in the state of Arizona, the institution of marriage, as from time immemorial, is a relationship between one man and one woman."

When asked to address the seemingly contradictory Biblical accounts of men having had several wives in pre-Christian times, Kincanas sidestepped the query, saying, "The reality is there have always been people who have lived in common-law relationships or perhaps have polygamous relationships," though in Biblical times marriages involving several wives were the norm.

Still, Kincanas spoke as though monogamy had always been the standard, saying, "But that doesn't necessarily change the understanding of the institution of marriage because there are other possibilities."

The 2006 version of the proposed amendment would have barred civil unions and other forms of legal recognition of gay and lesbian families, a sweeping legislative measure that opponents said would place undue strain on retired, unmarried heterosexual couples drawing both on the pensions of deceased spouses and on domestic partnership provisions, which benefit straight as well as gay couples.

The bishops had supported that more stringent measure as well, said the article, though they are willing to settle for the narrower version, which takes more specific aim at marriage.

Even as anti-gay-family organizations such as the Catholic church issue pro-Proposition 102 voting instructions to their followers, others in the state have begun to mount a resistance to seeing gays and lesbians singled out and targeted for a loss of family rights under the state's constitution.

The Tucson Citizen reported in a Sept. 4 article that LGBT community center Wingspan had made plans for an event, scheduled for that same day, to organize a campaign against Proposition 102, together with a group called No on Prop 102.

The grassroots efforts of the state's citizens on one side of the issue, and the deployment of political operatives and voting instructions on the other, are unfolding against a backdrop in which state officials sparred over the wording of Proposition 102.

The Arizona Republic reported in an Aug. 27 article that the Ariz. Secretary of State, Jan Brewer, and the state's Attorney General, Terry Goddard, clashed over how to explain to voters what their "no" vote would entail.

Though both parties had already come to a consensus on how to express the meaning of a "yes" vote, it took until the last minute, literally just before the informational pamphlets were due to be sent for printing, for the two sides to come to an agreement.

In the end, consensus was reached; a "no" vote, the pamphlets will tell voters, would prevent a rewrite the state constitution that would forbid marriage for any but one man and one woman, but would not affect existing state law that has the same effect.

The informational pamphlets will contain the text of the proposed amendment, as well as arguments for and against the measure.

A similar disagreement about how to word an anti-gay-family amendment to the California constitution was resolved earlier this summer.

In May, Calif. became the second state, after Massachusetts, to allow gay and lesbian families to marry.

If the anti-gay ballot initiative scheduled to go before voters in Nov. is approved, gay and lesbian families in Calif. will lose the right to marry, though those who marry beforehand would not see their marriages invalidated, according to the office of Jerry Brown, the Calif. Attorney General.

In 2007, a similar ballot initiative in Mass., which would have denied future gay and lesbian families the right to marry while leaving existing gay and lesbian marriages intact, was voted down by state lawmakers during a constitutional convention.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.