Guest Commentary

All Arizonans should be concerned about anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT ballot initiatives

Last November, Arizonans passed Proposition 200, which forces all Arizonans to provide proof of citizenship to receive certain public benefits, register to vote, and vote. The Center for Arizona Policy, a theocratic think tank in Phoenix, has announced they will pursue a comprehensive state constitutional ban on not only marriage, but civil unions, domestic partner registries and any legal protection for same-sex couples on the city, county or state level in Arizona.

Other than advancing Arizona's national reputation as a conservative oasis, Proposition 200 and the planned comprehensive anti-LGBT amendment seem to have little in common. However, closer examination reveals that Prop 200 and the anti-LGBT amendment are essentially the same.

While in theory, conservatives support smaller government and more local control, both Prop 200 and the anti-LGBT amendment greatly expand the role, reach and cost of government into the private lives of all Arizonans.

Under Prop 200, DES workers and other state employees must report individuals who don't have proof of citizenship. Prop 200 also mandates all Arizonans show ID to register to vote and all but prohibits grassroots voter-registration drives. In truth, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for many of the "protected" services, and the Pima County Recorder's Office has no recorded cases of voter fraud by undocumented immigrants. Prop 200 creates additional, costly layers of government bureaucracy for training and enforcement of these unnecessary policies, while making voter registration and participation in democracy more difficult for everyone.

If passed, the anti-LGBT amendment would deny any legal protections to same-sex couples in Arizona, including rights that same-sex couples currently have. In September 2003, the Tucson City Council approved a domestic partner registry by a 7-0 vote. While the benefits are minimal, they are symbolically significant. If the proposed amendment passes, Tucson's registry would be null and void, erasing the Tucson registry and the civil rights of more than 250 Tucson couples. Both Tucson and Pima County governments currently offer domestic partner benefits for their employees. If the amendment passes, even more of our family, friends and neighbors will be uninsured.

Civil rights decisions for minority communities belong in the courts, not on the ballot. Imagine if Brown vs. Board of Education was decided by voters rather than the Supreme Court in 1954. Judges who extend rights to minorities are not "activists." Judges are (or should be) doing their job, which is upholding people's civil rights. As James Madison said in 1787, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." In other words, majority rule unchecked can lapse into majority tyranny.

Proponents of Prop 200 and the anti-LGBT amendment wrongly scapegoat and criminalize immigrants and LGBT people for social problems. Virginia Abernethy, the national chair for Prop 200, has written several articles charging Latin-American immigrants with everything from causing California's 2001 power crisis to driving untold numbers of middle-class whites into "homosexual lifestyles." Rev. Jerry Falwell blamed "gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle" for the tragic Sept. 11 attacks. The proponents of Prop 200 and the anti-LGBT amendment prey on people's fears and financial hardships to rally support, while playing political football with real people's lives. As recent history has taught us, an essential tactic of oppression is the social scapegoating of minorities.

Prop 200 increases discrimination by promoting racial profiling of all Arizonans, while also spending taxpayer dollars on "non-solutions" to issues such as immigration, national security and increasing divorce rates among heterosexuals. By institutionalizing discrimination, Prop 200 and the anti-LGBT amendment also send tacit state-sanctioned signals that it is acceptable to harass undocumented immigrants, people of color and/or LGBT people.

An important test of a genuine democracy is how it treats its minorities. In recent history, the United States has restored and expanded rights for minorities, not taken rights away. Connect the dots and realize: The bully always comes for the most vulnerable first.

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