Proof of Evolution

How Republicans learned to stop worrying and love—or at least accept—gay marriage.

At a GOP primary debate during her 2012 campaign against Congressman Ron Barber, Republican candidate Martha McSally was asked whether she supported gay marriage.

Her opponent, Mark Koskiniemi, had just said he believed that marriage should be limited to one man and one woman.

McSally stood up and flipped the order of gender, saying with a laugh: "I do believe that marriage is between one woman and one man." As the audience chuckled, she delivered a fist bump to Mark Koskiniemi.

McSally's opposition to gay marriage is well documented. She has expressed her support for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning gay marriage, although she told the Weekly that she wouldn't spend too much effort pushing for it. She has said throughout her political campaign that she believes it's a matter of "states' rights"—i.e., something that the states should decide for themselves without federal interference.

But last week, as a federal judge voided Arizona's constitutional prohibition against gay marriage as a violation of the U.S. Constitution, McSally said she had no quarrel with the decision—or with Arizona Attorney General's decision to not appeal the ruling.

"I have long-held that this is a states' issue and support Attorney General Horne's decision regarding an appeal," McSally said via email when asked about the ruling.

And while "government overreach" is one of the four pillars of McSally's campaign, she decided against condemning what some Republican politicians have called a federal judge imposing an order that legally obliterates a voter-approved amendment to the Arizona Constitution.

"The U.S. District Court and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have made rulings," McSally said when asked about the states' right issue. "The Attorney General has decided it would be a waste of taxpayer resources and time to appeal, which is the pragmatic and reasonable decision."

Barber, who narrowly defeated McSally in 2012 and is facing a rematch against her this year, has long been a supporter of marriage equality. After the ruling was issued, he went down to the Pima County Courthouse to congratulate couples who were getting married and ended up serving as the witness for several unions.

Barber called last Friday, Oct. 17, a "historic day in Arizona—a day that is long overdue—as each of our fellow citizens now has the right to make a legally binding, lifelong commitment to the person they love. I am overjoyed that all Arizonans will now be able to have the same rights and the same responsibilities that my wife Nancy and I have shared during our 47 years of marriage."

McSally wasn't the only politician to have a hard time stirring up much outrage over a federal judge issuing an order that overturned a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution. It seems like just about every Republican in a competitive has decided that in this case, it's OK for a federal judge to toss Arizona's prohibition against gay marriage.

There were a few GOP politicians who condemned the decision. Gov. Jan Brewer stuck with the states' right argument, calling the decision "not only disappointing, but also deeply troubling, that unelected federal judges can dictate the laws of individual states, create rights based on their personal policy preferences and supplant the will of the people in an area traditionally left to the states for more than 200 years."

"Simply put, courts should not be in the business of making and changing laws based on their personal agendas," Brewer continued. "It is not the role of the judiciary to determine that same-sex marriages should be allowed. Historically and traditionally, that power belongs to the states, and to the people. If society wants to recognize same-sex marriage or civil unions, that decision should be made through our elected representatives or at the ballot—not the courts."

But neither of the mainstream candidates who seek to replace Brewer next year had any criticism for the court decision, although Democrat Fred DuVal—who said that "marriage equality is a just cause"—sounded more supportive than Republican Doug Ducey.

"As Americans, our civil rights must never be denied," said DuVal. "As Arizonans, we believe that liberty is a cause worth fighting for. This ruling sends an emphatic message that no one should be treated differently under the law because of who they are or who they love. Couples in committed relationships who want to marry should not face interference from politicians of either party."

Ducey—who has told the Christian conservative Center for Arizona Policy that he favors amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay marriage and opposes the state's policy of granting health insurance and other benefits to the partners of gays and lesbians in domestic partnerships—didn't wish the happy couples well with their new marriages, but he did say that Horne "made the right decision regarding an appeal. I accept the determination of the courts and will honor their decision."

In the race to replace Horne as attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich—a staunch social conservative who told the Center for Arizona Policy that he opposed granting benefits to the domestic partners of state employees and supported defending the Arizona Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage "to the fullest extent legally possible"—released a statement saying it was "unfortunate that the courts have once again undermined the will of Arizona voters. However, state and local officials now have an obligation to put aside politics and personal feelings and uphold the law in accordance with the court's decision."

His Democratic opponent, Felecia Rotellini, celebrated the decision on Friday when she urged Horne to not appeal the decision.

"It's time for the State of Arizona to recognize that two people who want to be in a committed, loving relationship and who want to marry must have equal protection under the law," said Rotellini in a prepared statement. "As Arizona's Attorney General, I will support equal protection under the law for one and all, with no exceptions."

Gay rights have already been an issue in the race for Arizona Secretary of State, where Democrat Terry Goddard aired an ad featuring a lesbian couple who were critical of Republican candidate Michele Reagan's vote in favor of SB 1062, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians if the owners had a sincerely held religious objection. Reagan voted for the bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer after national attention was focused on the state. In a recent debate, Reagan conceded that she had made a "bad vote."

After last week's ruling, Reagan told the Arizona Republic that Friday "should be a proud day for Arizona as we celebrate equality."

Reagan has evidently evolved on the gay marriage issue, given that she was one of the Republicans who supported putting the same-sex marriage ban on the 2008 ballot.

Goddard said the ruling "isn't just a victory for gay and lesbian Arizonans whose equality under the law is rightfully being recognized. Today is a recognition that basic fairness trumps short-term political interests and crass attempts to divide our state. I want to congratulate every Arizonan who fought for this day. When I first started working and campaigning with LGBT groups in the early 1980s, it was hard to believe this day would come. I can't express how glad I am that it has."

In Congressional District 1, where Republican House Speaker Andy Tobin hopes to unseat Democratic Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, it's a similar story.

Tobin—who pushed the anti-gay SB 1062 through the House of Representatives with lightning speed earlier this year and has told the Center for Arizona Policy that he believed the state's prohibition against gay marriage "should be defended to the fullest extent possible"—said that he agreed with Horne's decision to throw in the towel on the legal fight.

"As a legal matter, I support the rule of law and the finality of this determination and recognize this issue is now settled," Tobin said.

Kirkpatrick said she thought the courts got it right.

"Today is a great day for all Arizonans and their loved ones," Kirkpatrick said. "I have long said that our government should treat every person equally regardless of who they love. And while today shows we have come a long way, we must remain steadfast in our efforts to move our state forward."

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