Some say that Proposition 107 is only about banning gay marriage, but that’s like saying a ham-and-cheese sandwich is only about cheese. When you hear the truth, you’re going to be surprised – especially if you don’t like ham. But that’s what’s being served in Arizona with the so-called “Protect Marriage Arizona” amendment.
Supporters hail the proposition, which would amend the state constitution, as an assurance that Arizona will never allow same-sex marriage, ignoring the fact that state law already prohibits it. They worry that “activist judges” might overturn the current statute. Apparently, it’s not enough that over the past three years, our appeals courts have made it clear that they won’t.
“Protect Marriage Arizona” and “activist judges” are merely boogieman phrases meant to rile people. If you really want to get upset, then you should know what the so-called gay marriage ban is actually all about.
It’s about ending health insurance benefits for thousands of families; it’s about endangering retired couples on social security; and it’s about altering adoption, inheritance and medical decision-making. Proposition 107 is – at its foundation – an attack on unmarried couples, and it will hurt Arizona’s families.
But those pushing the amendment are confident that they’ll succeed. After all, some 20 states have already changed their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, and some 300,000 Arizona voters signed petitions to get this amendment on the ballot.
“Not so fast,” say the proposition’s opponents, who are convinced that when Arizona voters realize what’s really going on, they won’t be so quick to stab so many of their fellow citizens in the back.llow me to put some real faces on this issue. And they’re not the faces you’d expect to see. You might expect two gay men in wedding garb or lesbian women with nuptial corsages, so it is a shock to glimpse the faces most affected by this proposition – faces like those of 79-year-old Al Breznay and his partner, Maxine Piatt. They are a retired Tucson couple who live together month-to-month on their social security checks. Their meager payments would be even smaller if they were married, so, instead, they are listed in Tucson’s Domestic Partnership Registry.
Breznay explains why: “In our case, remaining unmarried, but bound together in a domestic partnership, is our only means of financial survival. Together, we can make it, but separately, we can’t.”
And there’s more. Last year, Maxine faced a life-threatening health issue, and Al was able to make the necessary medical decisions because he was registered as her domestic partner. Now he worries that if the amendment passes, they will not only lose those rights, but they’ll be forced to relinquish their healthcare benefits, too.
Here are two more faces: firefighter Paul Knobbe and his partner, Teresa Hewitt. The couple relies on the domestic partner benefits that he receives from the city of Phoenix to provide healthcare for their son. “If Proposition 107 passes, it will disrupt our family structure,” Knobbe says.
These are two of the five straight couples that spoke out this summer in a lawsuit that challenged the proposed amendment. They spoke out because many more straight families will be harmed by this plan than gay couples, says Kyrsten Sinema, a Democratic lawmaker who heads the anti-proposition group called Arizona Together.
Sinema says you only have to recite the second clause of the proposed amendment to see its target: “[…this] prohibits the state and its political subdivisions from creating or recognizing any legal status for unmarried persons that is similar to that of marriage.”
Then she starts reciting numbers that she says the proposition’s proponents don’t want anyone to know about: The last census found that Arizona had 118,196 unmarried households, or about 11 percent of all couples. Only about 12,000 of them are gay. The other 106,196 couples are straight, having decided to share their lives without getting married.
“I say that’s their business; most people in Arizona say that’s their business,” Sinema adds.
Attorney Chuck A. Blanchard filed the lawsuit on July 12, arguing that if the proponents were honest, they would have named the proposition the “anti-domestic partnership initiative.” But they didn’t, he contends, because they knew Arizonans wouldn’t support it.
There are two polls that prove Blanchard’s point. In 2005, one poll showed that while 60 percent of Arizonans supported a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the support fell to only 48 percent if it included a ban on domestic partner benefits.
The second poll, conducted this year, found that support was seriously eroding: Only 50 percent of those who responded would “definitely” or “probably” vote to ban gay marriage, but only 27 percent would support a ban on domestic partner benefits.
On August 10, Judge Douglas Rayes ruled against the lawsuit, which argued that there were two separate issues with regard to Proposition 107, and claimed that two separate issues aren’t allowed on Arizona propositions. Judge Rayes disagreed, saying that a ban on gay marriage and a ban on domestic partner benefits shared a “common purpose.”
The decision shocked many. After the decision, former Republican state senator Steve May, treasurer of Arizona Together and a gay activist, said, “Arizona voters know the difference between domestic partner benefits and same-sex marriage, and they want to vote separately on these issues.” On August 16, Blanchard filed an appeal of the ruling with the Arizona Supreme Court. At press time, the challenge was still pending. If the high court refuses to hear the appeal and the ruling stands, Proposition 107 will be on the November ballot; if it rules against the proposition, it won’t be sent to voters.
Peter Gentala doesn’t think it’s tragic at all that the amendment he’s promoting would end domestic partner benefits. As general counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy, he says he thinks it is a change that voters want.
“Only marriage should have a privileged place in Arizona law,” he tells me. “I don’t think that’s a controversial point at all.”
Gentala is confident that the courts won’t block the amendment, and that voters will have their say in November.
“All the polls show overwhelming support,” he claims. “It’s true that Arizona has a ‘defense of marriage act,’ but it needs constitutional protection. People don’t want marriage redefined or undermined by default.”
Voters in Ohio and Utah have already passed amendments like the one proposed in Arizona, and they’ve seen some unexpected consequences. In Ohio, several trial courts have ruled that the state’s domestic violence laws no longer apply to unmarried survivors. That could become a major issue in Arizona, which has one of the nation’s highest rates of domestic violence. In Utah, an attorney is claiming that that state’s amendment invalidates a protective order taken out against a man by his ex-girlfriend.
But you won’t learn any of that from the supporters of this amendment, including the religious right and the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI has declared a “special urgency” for Catholics to uphold marriage between only one man and one woman. Even if you agree with that, where is the moral imperative to attack single families, their health benefits and their right to protection against violence in the home?
Even more startling is how distorted the pro-proposition arguments have become. Arizona’s pro-amendment literature includes the outrageous claim that without this amendment, “it will mean Arizona does not care whether children grow up without a father or a mother.…”
Not all churches, however, are goose-stepping into this make-believe world. The Church of the Beatitudes has asked its members to not only oppose this amendment, but to take action to defeat it. Among its objections: “It forces a fanatic’s personal interpretation of religion on all of us, and severely penalizes those who see things differently.”
I’m hoping the Church of the Beatitudes and other organizations like it will continue educating the public. And, more importantly, I’m hoping Arizonans will see this attack for what it really is. Remember, ballot propositions aren’t always what they seem. Read carefully, and vote wisely.