Marriage Misinformation

Domestic partners--gay and straight--will lose out if Proposition 107 passes

Both sides in the fight over Proposition 107 are predicting dire consequences if they don't get their way--it's just that one side's predictions of harm are more credible than the other's.

Voters will go to the polls in November to decide the so-called Protect Marriage Amendment, which would change the state constitution to prevent government recognition of any alternative to same-sex marriage, including civil unions and domestic partnerships. If passed, it would affect not only gays, but also straights who--for whatever reason--find it more beneficial to forgo getting a marriage certificate. Governments in Arizona would be unable to extend benefits, such as health care, to these domestic partners.

Arizona Together, a political group formed to oppose the proposition, has said up to 100,000 Arizonans would be in danger of losing domestic-partner benefits if Proposition 107 passes. According to an Arizona Capitol Times opinion piece written by Ken Clark, Arizona Together's campaign director, it would also produce "confusion over previously negotiated union contracts, and extended litigation over the definition of domestic-partner benefits," as it has in Ohio and Michigan after similar measures passed.

Proposition 107 would scrap Tucson's domestic-partner registry, which provides an easy way for companies to check if a person applying for such benefits is indeed in a committed, stable relationship.

Arizona Together's chairwoman, Kyrsten Sinema, said the initiative serves two purposes.

"The first purpose is one related to time, and that is that it's being proposed in 2006 specifically to bring out the far-right to obviously surface in the election--you know, to influence the gubernatorial race and other races," she said. "The other reason is that there's a small group of extremists who really want to push their views on people. They're very extremist views, and they're out of touch with mainstream Arizonans."

Sinema said Arizonans are aware people "cohabitate," and "they're OK with it." Mayors Bob Walkup and Phil Gordon, of Tucson and Phoenix respectively, have recently come out against the amendment. Former UA President Peter Likins has also voiced opposition, saying it would put the university at a competitive disadvantage in hiring people who want domestic-partner benefits for loved ones.

Protect Marriage Arizona didn't respond to three phone calls seeking comment. The group says on the "Talking Points" section of its Web site that the amendment is necessary to protect the institution of marriage from "attack" by activist judges (same-sex marriage is already illegal under state law). They have also said marriage is the foundation of a strong society.

These arguments don't sit well with Lee Formwalt, the executive director of the Organization of American Historians, a nonprofit with more than 9,000 members. He said attempts to portray marriage as an institution that has been unaltered since time immemorial are just plain wrong.

"The institution of marriage has changed over time, and it reflects the changes going on in society," Formwalt said, citing in recent history the striking down of laws prohibiting interracial marriage and the legal subordination of women. "Certainly the subordination of women--that change comes because of the women's movement. So it shouldn't be any surprise to us that gays and lesbians are interested in gaining access to this institution that has been limited to heterosexuals up to this time."

He also questioned the rationale that marriage serves as the bedrock of a democratic society.

"There's no evidence that democracy is based on that and can only survive with that institution intact," Formwalt said. "In other words, what we're saying is that there is no threat from a minority of people engaging in same-sex marriage. It doesn't threaten our institutions at all.

"You know, for a lot of people who are afraid of change and so on, this seems like a big change. I think looking at what's happened in Massachusetts should be of some comfort for those who fear that the world is going to come to an end because gays and lesbians can marry each other now."

According to a 2003 study headed by Fred Solop, the director of Northern Arizona University's Social Research Laboratory, a majority of Arizonans opposed permitting gays to marry (54 to 42 percent).

On the other hand, a majority favored allowing them to form civil unions with many of the rights of marriage (53 to 43 percent) and also favored the sharing of health-care benefits between gay partners (59 to 36 percent). The sampling error was plus or minus 4 percent.

Solop said an NAU poll released March 15 asked voters if they would support or oppose a ballot initiative that would amend the Arizona Constitution to define marriage as being only between a man and a woman, "and would prohibit benefits to the partners of government workers." That one had the support of 52 percent of respondents, with 40 percent saying they would vote it down. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percent. However, a poll taken by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University and Phoenix's KAET TV in late August--with the question heavily emphasizing the domestic-partnership ban--had the support of only 38 percent of respondents, with 51 percent saying they'd vote it down. That poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.

Another NAU poll asking about the initiative is due out next week. Sinema said emphasizing the fact that this initiative would impact more than just gay people is crucial.

"What we've found is that people are becoming more and more aware," she said. "Is the awareness at the level I want to be? No. But, to be honest, it would never be at the level I want it to be."

Arizona Together is getting help in Pima County, following what some local activists have said was an inauspicious start. They had complained that Arizona Together had either ignored or actively discouraged grassroots efforts that work well locally, and instead pushed for a one-size-fits-all approach centered on fundraising in Maricopa County. Some were turned off from the campaign as a result.

A group calling itself No on 107 was officially formed three weeks ago, and its chairwoman, Cindy Jordan, said they've picked up some of those disaffected people. The group's purpose is "very simple," Jordan said: "Our goal is to win the no vote on Proposition 107 in Pima County by 30,000 votes.

"We just really thought that there needed to be a group exclusively focused on Southern Arizona, particularly Pima County, because, as you know, Pima County behaves very differently than Maricopa County," she said. "We're focusing mainly on radio, and we're going to go after the seniors, Latina and women's market."

Jordan said they've had a lot of success so far with fundraising and rallying efforts.

"I think that a statewide campaign is a really great idea, and it's needed, although it's difficult to rally people when you're trying to coordinate the whole state," she said. "So when a Southern Arizona effort came up, I think people really latched onto it, because it gave people something to sink their teeth into."

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