Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Effort to Get Same-Sex Civil Unions on Arizona Ballot Announced

PHOENIX (Observer Update) - After voters approved amending Arizona's Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, a British businessman and right activists is looking toward 2010.

A man who champions equality for Gays in the United Kingdom has traveled to Arizona to begin a drive for a ballot initiative that would establish civil partnerships, which since 2005 have allowed same-sex couples to legally register their relationships. "We're not fighting for marriage; we're fighting for equal rights," said Gino Meriano, whose UK business, Pink Weddings, arranges commitment ceremonies and provides free legal advice for Gay and Lesbian couples wishing to establish civil partnerships.

Steen Lawson, co-founder of Marriage Equality USA's new Arizona chapter, said civil unions don't go far enough. His group wants same-sex couples to have the same rights as heterosexual couples who wish to marry. Since government uses the word marriage, we must fight for marriage," Lawson said, the Cronkite News Service reported in the Tucson Citizen.

Meriano, Lawson and others are looking for a next step in response to Proposition 102, which Arizona voters approved Nov. 4. Given that the initiative amended Arizona's Constitution, making a legal challenge difficult, opponents of 102 say any next step likely would be a ballot proposition.

While the United Kingdom offers civil partnerships, Vermont, New Jersey and New Hampshire offer civil unions, which provide the same benefits for same-sex couples. Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states allowing same-sex marriage since California voters approved Proposition 8 in November.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said it's easy to come up with ideas for initiatives that would establish civil unions or give same-sex couples the right to marry; she said he hears those regularly. "The problem is they don't have the money or time to fund it," she said in an interview, estimating that would take $3 million to run a successful campaign. That kind of money wasn't available this year for opponents of 102. While supporters raised $7.7 million, most of it from individuals, opposition groups raised $820,000, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State's Office.

Meriano, who has yet to submit the paperwork necessary to begin gathering signatures, said he thinks an initiative seeking civil partnerships for Gay couples can win because it takes marriage out of the debate. "The campaign is simple: Vote no for Gay marriage, vote yes for civil partnerships," Meriano said.

Even if this proposal gets on the Arizona ballot in 2010 and is approved, Gay and Lesbian relationships won’t be recognized on the federal level since section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), approved and signed into law in 1996, prohibit governmental recognition of such relationships. Efforts have been made to repeal DOMA or section three of the law and are expected again in the 111th Congress.

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