A coalition of social conservatives opposing same-sex marriage will mount an initiative campaign to put a state constitutional amendment on Arizona's 2006 ballot instead of seeking legislative action as previously planned, leaders announced Thursday. "Marriage, the foundation of our society, is too important to politicize," Center for Arizona Policy president Len Munsil said in a statement.
Conservative Republicans had been drafting a legislative resolution to put a gay marriage ban before voters, and the legislation would have enough support to pass, Munsil said. However, recent media reports "marginalized" the issue as a political football that would be used by both Republicans and Democrats, he said.
Supporters previously said the proposed constitutional amendment would have defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman and would have prohibited the state and local governments from providing unmarried couples with the same benefits as married couples. Munsil said coalition members would write the proposed language for the initiative in coming months and announce the formation of a committee to gather the necessary signatures to put it on the ballot.
The secretary of state's office said 183,917 valid signatures of registered voters would be needed on petitions to place a proposed amendment on the ballot. Legislative supporters of a constitutional ban said previously they would resort to an initiative if efforts to put the ban on the 2006 ballot through a
referendum failed in the legislature.
Rep. Warde Nichols, a Chandler Republican who had been planning to sponsor the planned referendum, also said Thursday that it would have had enough votes to pass the legislature. However, "we don't want this turned into a political football in the legislature," he said.
Nichols sidestepped questions on whether he would oppose a resolution already introduced by five other Republican lawmakers that would amend the Arizona constitution by defining marriage as a union of a man and woman but would not prohibit marriage-like benefits or services for unmarried couples.
That measure's chief sponsor, Republican representative Marian McClure of Tucson, was not immediately available for comment Thursday on whether she would continue to push the proposal.
Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat who has said she plans to run for reelection in 2006, recently suggested that backers of a constitutional ban consider having a special election this year instead of waiting for the 2006 ballot. Napolitano has said repeatedly that she opposes same-sex marriage but believes a constitutional ban is unnecessary because courts have upheld the ban already in state law.
However, she acknowledged January 5 that defining marriage in the Arizona constitution as a union between a man and a woman would help prevent a judge from overturning the ban in state law. Napolitano said she wasn't worried about any possible political fallout, but Republicans characterized Napolitano's suggestion as a ploy made in hopes of keeping the issue off the 2006 ballot because it could bring additional conservative voters to the polls.
An opponent of the proposed constitutional ban called the supporters' change welcome news. "Certainly we'll fight it," said Kathie Gummere, Arizona Human Rights Fund director of public affairs. Gummere said the ban stands a better chance of passage if it isn't broader than the definition. A poll conducted for The Arizona Republic indicated a majority of Arizona adults surveyed opposed changing the state's constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The Republic reported Sunday that the survey found that 56% would oppose the ban, 37% would favor it, and 7% were undecided.