After seven years of living together, Sharla Egan and Denise Murphy intend to marry Saturday in a ceremony at Calamus Resort in Phoenix.
But first, the Mesa pair — and about 50 other gay and lesbian couples — are showing up at court and city offices around the state today to obtain marriage licenses in a massive test of the state’s laws, enacted in 1996, banning same-sex marriage.
Many of the couples will board buses and stop at about 10 different licenseissuing offices where they will take turns asking for application forms.
"I am expecting to be turned away," Egan said Thursday, but that won’t stop her and Murphy from their Saturday wedding.
The real test could come on Tuesday when as many as six pastors who will have performed the wedding rites show up at a registrar’s office in Phoenix with marriage affidavits, signed by couples, witnesses and notaries, and demand they be recorded as civil marriages.
"We will refuse to leave until they are recorded," said the Rev. Brad Wishon, the organizer and the pastor of Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church in Phoenix. Offices in Yuma, Flagstaff, Prescott, Sedona, Tucson and other communities also will be tested, he said.
"The issue, at hand, is that gays, lesbians and families are denied access to social and religious institutions and rights easily accessed by their heterosexual counterparts," said Wishon, a pastor for 14 years in St. L ouis and Phoenix.
The challenge to Arizona law coincides with historic events Monday in Massachusetts where gay marriages become legal for state residents, in wake of a state Supreme Court ruling last November sanctioning samesex marriage. Barring intervention by other courts, the state will begin issuing licenses Monday to gay couples, but not to nonresidents.
Opponents of gay marriages will hold a Marriage Crisis Rally at noon Monday outside the Arizona Capitol. All attending are encouraged to wear white clothing, especially shirts and blouses, to show solidarity and "depict your support for the sanctity and purity of marriage," said Len Munsil, executive director of Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy. He helped draft the 1996 state legislation limiting marriage to one man and one woman.
He noted that the Rev. Mark Fuller, pastor of Cross-Roads Nazarene Church in Chandler, is asking his members to "drop everything and attend the rally . . . as a holy mandate." His church is holding prayer service on the issue at 7 p.m. Sunday at the church. And Jay Mount, owner of MDS Communications in Mesa, is providing buses for up to 100 employees to leave work to attend the rally Monday, Munsil said.
For Egan, 31, and Murphy, 29, who are raising two boys, the decision to be seek legal sanction to their union came as they learned more about the legal benefits afforded only to married couples.
Some of their family members will attend the Saturday wedding, while others have been left out. "We didn’t want anybody there that really did not understand that we are doing this as a civil act of disobedience," Egan said.
"I don’t know what they are doing," Munsil said, "but they are not getting married — the law doesn’t allow that in Arizona."