Arizona opponents of gay marriage are rallying support for a statewide ban as President Bush urges Congress to back a similar nationwide proposal.
Cathi Herrod, interim president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, said Monday that proponents of the Protect Marriage Amendment still need tens of thousands of signatures to ensure it qualifies for the ballot.
It takes 183,917 valid signatures for an issue to be placed on the Nov. 7 ballot. When advocates of the statewide ban started their campaign more than a year ago, Herrod had said they wanted 250,000 to 300,000 signatures.
Herrod declined to say how many signatures the group has, but claims to be 60,000 to 80,000 short of the goal. She blamed the slow progress on opponents’ efforts to block the signature drive, as well as voter complacency.
Even so, she said she’s confident the measure will make the ballot, saying supporters of the ban will intensify their efforts over the next month, before the July 6 deadline to turn in the signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office.
“We have four weeks ahead of us to work hard and make sure we get on the ballot,” Herrod said. “This is about preserving that marriage remains between a man and a woman and all the benefits that society gets from that.”
Same-sex marriages already are illegal in Arizona, and have been since 1996. But advocates say they want to alter the state constitution to ensure the ban stays in place. Their proposal would define marriage as only between a man and a woman.
Herrod and other supporters said the state needs to ban same-sex marriage as soon as possible because it could take years to amend the U.S. Constitution for a nationwide ban. She added that until there is a nationwide law forbidding gay marriage, a federal judge could overturn the statewide ban if it’s challenged in court.
About half the states in the country have outlawed or are attempting to prohibit samesex marriages.
On Monday, Bush urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages. But political insiders say the proposal has little support in Washington. Proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution need to be approved by two-thirds of the states. Such a change can take years.
In Arizona, advocates for the ban are facing opposition from the Arizona Together Coalition, whose members include Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.
She said many other couples would be penalized if voters approve the gay marriage amendment because it bars local governments from offering benefits to domestic partners that are normally reserved for married couples.
Currently, Tempe, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tucson and Pima County offer domestic partner benefits to their employees. If the ban is passed, the measure wouldn’t affect private companies, but municipalities would be prohibited from giving health insurance or other benefits to nonmarried couples.
Next month, Sinema said she will lead a series of grassroots events to galvanize opposition to proposed bans on same-sex marriages. That includes small meetings throughout the state to discuss the issue and find ways to shoot down the effort.
Sen. Ken Cheuvront, D-Phoenix, who is openly gay, said Republicans are using gay marriage to score political points in the upcoming election.
He said that the GOP thinks the issue can draw conservative voters to the polls, which would benefit them in state and local races.
But Nathan Sproul, the Republican operative in charge of the campaign, said the issue is driven not by politics, but by people who want merely to preserve marriage.