Lawsuit challenges Arizona's ban on gay marriage

BY admin

July 16 2003 12:00 AM ET

Two Phoenix men have gone to court to get a marriage license despite Arizona laws banning gay marriage. Harold Donald Standhardt, 34, and Tod Alan Keltner, 37, filed a special-action lawsuit in the Arizona court of appeals against the state and the clerk of Maricopa County superior court. The lawsuit asks that the court of appeals overturn two state laws that limit marriages to those between a man and a woman and also order the court clerk to grant them a marriage license. Standhardt and Keltner were denied a marriage license when they applied for one, according to the lawsuit. Standhardt and Keltner "have been in [a] committed relationship for over six years and have lived together and resided in Maricopa County for over five years," their lawsuit states. "They, like their heterosexual counterparts, wish to marry." The lawsuit claims the ban on gay marriages, enacted in 1996, violates various state and federal constitutional protections, including the Arizona constitution's right to privacy. "We have the same basic rights as any other couple," said Standhardt, the coowner of a travel agency with Keltner.

The lawsuit, filed on July 7, was publicized Monday by the Center for Arizona Policy, a Scottsdale-based group that lobbies on behalf of social conservatives. Center president Len Munsil, who said he drafted the 1996 law enacted by the legislature to ban gay marriages, said the group would attempt to intervene in the case to defend the ban. "Marriage is not an institution created by American law. It has multiple thousands of years of being a relationship between a man and a woman," Munsil said. "We're looking at discarding that in one generation."

The lawsuit cited several court rulings at the federal and state level, including a June 26 ruling in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Texas law banning gay sex was an unconstitutional violation of privacy. Arizona repealed its own ban on sodomy in 2001. The lawsuit also cited a 2002 decision by the Arizona supreme court, in a case involving state funding for abortions for low-income women, that the state could not enact laws that grant any citizen privileges while denying them to others. "Here, the only interest which could be advanced [in defense of the laws] is some moral notion that marriage belongs only to couples of the opposite sex," the lawsuit states.

The Arizona challenge comes as the nation awaits a gay marriage ruling in a case filed by seven same-sex couples in Massachusetts who were denied marriage licenses and appealed their case to the state's highest court. Many individuals and organizations on both sides of the issue have predicted a pro-gay-marriage decision in that case. Another gay marriage challenge is currently working its way through the New Jersey courts. The Arizona suit also comes as the debate around gay marriage heats up, both in light of the Supreme Court's sodomy ruling and in anticipation of next year's presidential campaign, during which the candidates are expected to be pressed to take a stand on the issue.

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