PHOENIX — Facing a splintered gay-rights community, supporters of legalizing same-sex weddings in Arizona have pulled the plug on putting the issue to voters next year.
“We got a substantial amount of pushback for a variety of reasons from the various LGBT groups,” said Warren Meyer, chairman of the campaign.
Most significant, he said, is the belief that 2014 is too soon to push the issue in Arizona. Meyer, a Phoenix businessman, said many believe that the issue would fare better in a presidential election year.
The other side of that coin, he said, is that the national gay-rights organizations that might be expected to provide substantial support would prefer to focus their efforts next year on other states where there is more pronounced support for allowing same-sex nuptials.
“They don't want a failure in 2014 to hurt momentum,” he said.
But Erin Simpson, a retired Tucson attorney who also was part of the initiative drive, said the kickback from other groups had little to do with the question of timing.
“It was more an issue, I believe, of a need to control the message and to be seen as the group that brings equal marriage to Arizona rather than people who start on the right,” she said. “And I think that's a sad development.”
Simpson said she and many of those involved in this measure came at it from the right side of the political spectrum, including Republicans and Libertarians. More to the point, she said the best way of getting a state like Arizona to allow gay weddings is to push the issue not as one of gay rights but as one of personal privacy while protecting the rights of religious groups that may have different ideas.
But Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona, said this wasn't a question of ego or taking the credit. She said the plan by Meyer and Simpson was shaping up to be a sure-fired loser — a loss that would set back the movement.
“It was clear they didn't have a fully functional strategy,” she said. That includes raising the funds needed not only to gather the close to 300,000 signatures that would be needed to ensure the issue qualifies for the ballot but then to sell the plan to voters.
Wininger said the two-year delay is not by choice.
“As a gay woman I want the right (to marry) and I want it now,” she said.
She said, though, polling on the issue showed “we're not where we need to be for 2014.” And without a winning strategy and the money to turn that around — and quickly — it made no sense to spend the effort to push ahead with this plan.
The decision was cheered by Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, one of the groups that successfully pushed through Arizona's 2008 constitutional amendment defining marriage in this state as strictly between one man and one woman.
“Redefining marriage is a nonstarter today in Arizona, regardless of the out-of-state money and numerous political operatives that poured into our state for this failed effort,” she said in a prepared statement. Herrod said she believes the bid to overturn the 2008 amendment will fare no better in 2016.
Meyer, however, said the additional time will provide the chance to raise more money for what is likely to be an expensive campaign.
But Meyer cautioned that the delay itself has a cost.
He pointed out that a new law, set to take effect Friday, imposes new burdens on those seeking to put issues on the ballot.
Among those is a requirement for “strict compliance” with initiative laws, meaning the slightest error could invalidate the whole effort. Current law requires only “substantial compliance,” meaning that courts will err on the side of giving voters their say.
Warren said that higher burden is likely to mean supporters will need to gather an extra 100,000 signatures to protect against that new law being used to invalidate names on petitions.
Under current law, backers would have needed 259,213 signatures to qualify for the 2014 ballot. And that amount, which is linked to the number of people who vote in gubernatorial election years, likely will increase after the 2014 vote.
Simpson said while gay-rights groups said they prefer a 2016 vote, “they really had no plan even for 2016.”