Arizona debates penalizing clerks who issue marriage licenses to gay couples

BY admin

April 10 2004 12:00 AM ET

Some opponents of gay marriage in Arizona want to impose criminal penalties on officials who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Their proposal to make issuing same-sex marriage licenses a misdemeanor, however, likely won't get off the ground in the legislature.

Bethany Lewis, a lobbyist for the Center for Arizona Policy, which pushed the legislation, said she wasn't sure whether any court clerks in Arizona had considered issuing gay marriage licenses. "It was more just the principle," Lewis said, noting some officials in a handful of states have issued marriage licenses to gay couples.

The Arizona proposal came as the legislature considers a nonbinding measure to urge Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The proposed state ban on issuance of marriage licenses for same-sex couples was scheduled for a committee hearing this week, but it did not come up. Republican senator Tim Bee of Tucson, who made the proposal on behalf of supporters, said the bill was pulled from the committee because proponents believed it would fail. Democratic senator Bill Brotherton of Phoenix said he opposes the bill because it isn't needed; state law already prohibits same-sex marriages. "It is just one of those emotional reactions to some of the stuff going on in the more liberal areas of the country," Brotherton said. Lewis said it's unlikely that supporters will revive the proposal (HB2375) during the current session of the legislature.

Meanwhile, the legislature is awaiting a final vote on the nonbinding measure supporting a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage. Supporters said this would further protect the sanctity of families by helping prevent judges from overturning the prohibition. Opponents said the measure treats gays differently than heterosexuals and that its backers are pandering to the religious right in an election year. The proposal cleared the state house last month. It has yet to come to a final vote in the senate because the vote breakdown is now at 15-15. Sixteen votes are needed for the measure to succeed. "We're at a draw right now," said Republican representative Warde Nichols of Chandler, a leading proponent of the measure. "We're looking for one more vote. We have about three people on the fence." If passed, the measure (HCM2004) wouldn't need the approval of Democratic governor Janet Napolitano.

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