Arizona Gay Reps Target Sodomy Law
Monday April 26, 1998
Arizona's out lawmakers team up in a move to repeal the state's statutes forbidding
infamous sex acts and "notorious cohabitation."
Arizona's House of Representatives voted April 22 to repeal Arizona's archaic laws
dealing with sodomy and cohabitation, while expanding the protections under the state's
domestic violence laws to include same-gender couples who live together. SB 1396 as
amended was approved by voice vote when the bill was before the House Committee of the
Whole (COW). The series of votes was seen as a joint victory for amendment authors openly
gay state Representatives Ken Cheuvront (D-Phoenix) and Steve May (R-Phoenix), who called
it "a great day for freedom in Arizona."
Cheuvront and May offered three amendments to SB 1396, a bill dealing with the state's
criminal code. The three proposed amendments would repeal state laws dealing with
"open and notorious cohabitation or adultery," "crimes against nature"
and "lewd and lascivious acts." Repeal would only remove sanctions against
behavior that is private, noncommercial and consensual. According to Cheuvront, under
these archaic laws "most sex in Arizona is illegal," including private
consensual acts of intimacy between heterosexual couples, even if married. Cheuvront added
that these laws (under which violations are misdemeanors) had not been enforced in more
than 30 years. The three amendments also included a proposal to expand protections under
the state's domestic violence laws to same-sex couples who live together.
Conservative members of the House, led by the anti-gay Representative Karen Johnson
(R-Mesa), challenged the three amendments and were defeated by voice vote and division of
the House. A roll call vote was then called on three parliamentary motions offered by
opponents of the amendments. Representative Mike Gardner (R-Tempe) made a motion to remove
Cheuvront's amendment from the bill; that motion failed by a 29 - 25 vote. Representatives
Jean McGrath (R-Glendale) and Laura Knaperek (R-Tempe) offered motions to remove May's
amendments; both motions were defeated, by votes of 28 - 28 and 29 - 26 respectively.
"The votes show that we have a majority in the Legislature who supports getting
rid of the state's archaic laws," Cheuvront said. Johnson, who had during this
session offered bills banning both gay and lesbian adoptions and the extension of medical
benefits to the domestic partners of government employees, called the House votes "a
dangerous, cultural shift in our society," and "another statement that will move
us away from objective standards of right and wrong."
Gay and lesbian rights supporters in the state were elated over the House vote. Bill
MacDonald, Co-Chair of the Arizona Human Rights Fund (AHRF), in a written statement said,
"This vote is clear evidence that the majority of the House of Representatives agrees
with AHRF's long-standing position that government has no business policing the private
lives and the private conduct of consenting adults. AHRF Co-Chair Amelia Craig Cramer
added, "It would seem that the members of the legislature are coming to understand
that these archaic laws represent an intrusion on the right to privacy, provided by the
Arizona State Constitution, that there is no compelling state interest for these laws and
that they serve no legitimate governmental interest."
SB 1396 awaits its third reading in the state House and if approved, it goes to the
state Senate for its decision on the proposed changes. If the Senate votes to concur with
the amendments, the bill will then go to final consideration in both chambers. However if,
as state capital sources expect, the Senate refuses to go along with the amendments, the
measure will go before a House/Senate conference committee, which would likely be
dominated by social conservatives; that could spell a dire future for Cheuvront and May's
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