Opponents of same-sex marriages will travel across Arizona today to launch a politically risky ballot initiative that goes far beyond declaring a legal union is only between one man and one woman.
The Protect Marriage Arizona initiative was filed Monday at the Secretary of State’s office, three months after leading social conservatives decided to bypass the Legislature so they could maintain control over the exact language of the proposal.
The initiative, as promised in January, also seeks to permanently forbid civil unions as an alternative to heterosexual marriages, and to revoke domestic partner benefits already offered by Tempe, Scottsdale and Phoenix.
Recent political polls show Arizona voters strongly support existing state law, which bans gay marriage, and likely would endorse a constitutional amendment. But the same polls also indicate Arizonans are sharply divided on extending that ban to other types of legal arrangements between unmarried couples, whether gay or straight.
"It is somewhat of a gamble," said Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, an initiative supporter. "Maybe you will lose some (votes) over that. But how many, I don’t know.
"I guess if you’re going to go to all the trouble of collecting all those signatures and getting it on the ballot, you might as well put on the ballot what you would prefer."
The Arizona proposal is the latest in a series of measures sweeping the country in reaction to last year’s ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court forcing that state to allow gay marriages among its residents. At least 40 states have laws explicitly forbidding gay marriage, and ballot measures passed last year in all 13 states where conservatives sought to stop expansion of the Massachusetts case.
Critics of the Arizona initiative already are trying to shift attention away from gay couples to the potential impact on other relationships.
"This is an attack on unmarried, heterosexual couples," said Steve May, a former state lawmaker from Paradise Valley and co-chairman of the Arizona Human Rights Fund. "Gay and lesbian citizens of Arizona are just collateral damage." May is openly gay.
The initiative campaign will be led by people affiliated with the Scottsdale-based Center for Arizona Policy, a think tank promoting fundamental Christian and conservative family issues. Organizers declined to comment before initiative rallies scheduled for today at the state Capitol, as well as in Tucson and Flagstaff.
The campaign is expected to include prominent Republicans and Catholic, evangelical and other Christian activists.
The initiative will have to gather nearly 184,000 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2006 election, a target expected to be met by all sides.
Critics have been planning for months to file a legal challenge to keep the initiative off the ballot. If that fails, a developing alliance called Arizona Coalition for Fairness is prepared to raise up to $3 million for an advertising blitz, May said.
"In most other states, the window to educate voters was very short. Most of those campaigns were less than six months long," May said. "Here in Arizona, we are going to have almost 18 months. Ultimately, this isn’t going to hurt gay people as much as it will hurt straight people. And those are the people who are going to determine the outcome."
Arizona critics were buoyed last week by a federal judge in Nebraska, who ruled a similar state constitutional amendment passed in 2000 violated protections of the U.S. Constitution, including the right to petition the government.
"This case is about a fundamental right of access to the political process, not about the end result of that process," wrote U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon. "It matters not that the group is gay and lesbian. Members of all groups, which include those that are controversial, have a fundamental right to ask for the benefits and protections from the government."
But supporters point out the Nebraska case will be appealed, and probably wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court. They add 70 percent of Nebraska voters approved the constitutional amendment with its ban on civil unions and domestic partner benefits.
The language: The Protect Marriage Arizona initiative is a proposed state constitutional amendment that says: "To preserve and protect marriage in this state, only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage by this state or its political subdivisions and no legal status for unmarried persons shall be created or recognized by this state or its political subdivisions that is similar to marriage."
Learn more: To contact the initiative committee or find out where to sign a petition, call (602) 978-0737 or write to 10645 N. Tatum Blvd., Suite, 200-641, Phoenix, 85008.
To oppose: For information about opposing the initiative, visit