Arizona Goes Rogue

Despite touting a libertarian ethos and gorgeous landscape, the state has become a wasteland for human rights, unsafe for women, LGBTs, and people of color.

BY Victoria A. Brownworth

September 06 2013 4:00 AM ET


Above: Costumed protesters (as an undocumented immigrant, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a demon, and Brewer) oppose immigration laws at a 2010 rally in Phoenix; Meghan McCain’s NOH8 photo; Brewer’s confrontation of Pres. Barack Obama depicted on button

The ADF, headquartered in Scottsdale, was one of the sponsors of the Prop 8 ballot initiative and provided attorneys in the Hollingsworth v. Perry case. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision in Perry, dismissed the ADF’s request. But on July 12, attorneys for the ADF and Protect Marriage, another sponsor of Prop 8, filed for yet another injunction against the marriages, arguing that the Supreme Court ruling only applied to the couples who brought the case to the high court. Appealing to the California Supreme Court, ADF’s attorneys asserted that Gov. Jerry Brown had no authority to allow 58 county clerks to issue marriage licenses. The lawsuit demands an immediate ban on all same-sex marriages throughout California. California court justices had ordered expedited briefing from both sides on the validity of Prop 8, and written arguments were filed in August.

The ADF, which has branches in California, Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, Kansas, and Washington, D.C., in addition to Arizona, has also defended the Boy Scouts in several cases, including Dale v. Boy Scouts of America, in which they sought to keep gay youth out of scouting.

While Arizona creates a safe harbor for bigotry with ADF, vestiges of that elusive libertarian model survive. Arizona included sexual orientation in its hate crimes statute in 2008, although it did not include gender identity. In 2007, the state began issuing new birth certificates for transgender persons who had completed sex reassignment surgery. But the 2009 anti-discrimination law that protected on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender signed by Brewer does not include LGBT people.

In February 2013, the Phoenix city council voted 5-3 to broaden the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The ordinance prohibits discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels. Businesses and individuals that don’t comply could be criminally prosecuted and face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $2,500 fine. Phoenix had previously banned discrimination based on race, sex, religion, national origin, age, and marital status, but not sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result of protests by conservative groups, the city council did allow for exemptions for religious organizations, small private landlords, senior housing and private clubs, among others, so it was not a sweeping change. Those supporting the addition of LGBT people to the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance argued that Phoenix would benefit from projecting an image that it welcomes diversity.

For months, one of the major issues in the ordinance battle was over the use of public restrooms by transgender people. Rep. John Kavanagh proffered a statewide bill in retaliation for the Phoenix ordinance; SB 1045 prohibited local governments from passing ordinances that could subject businesses to lawsuits or criminal penalties if they forbid a transgender person from using a restroom. Activists referred to the bill as “no loo for you.” He dropped the bill in June, but said he would reintroduce it next year.

One nagging question about Arizona is how the state transitioned so smoothly from Napolitano to Brewer. Brewer’s popularity signals the real truth about Arizona: The libertarian label may be more guise than reality, a cover for some of the state’s most egregious scandals, from the Keating Savings and Loan debacle of 1989 (in which John McCain was implicated but ultimately cleared) to the refusal to adopt Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a national holiday (from 1986 until Arizona voters adopted in it 1992 after a tourism boycott) to the rogue and blatantly racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has been in office for 21 years and made prisoners in his prisons wear pink underwear and striped jumpsuits and eat moldy food. In 2011, Sarah Palin, in what many believed to be a precursor to her considering a run for national office, purchased a $1.7 million home in Scottsdale. Of all the lower 48 that she might have chosen, why Arizona, if not for the political climate?

Is it possible Brewer’s popularity actually signals Arizona’s fealty to independence? Brewer herself embodies those bizarre contradictions that define Arizona; in January she informed her legislature that she intended to expand Medicaid in keeping with Obamacare, infuriating the Republican establishment. But she insisted that lawmakers pass a plan to “maintain coverage for those in need, honor the will of Arizonans who have twice voted to expand Medicaid, save our General Fund, keep Arizona tax dollars in Arizona, and protect rural and safety net hospitals.”

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