Arizona Panel OKs Sodomy Repeal
February 13, 2001
Despite opponents warnings that change is dangerous, an Arizona House
committee voted to dump the states archaic and unenforceable sex laws. Mark
R. Kerr, Tucson Weekly Observer & PlanetOut News Staff
Arizonas House Judiciary Committee heard testimony February 13 on a bill
that would repeal the states archaic laws dealing with cohabitation,
sodomy, and "lewd and lascivious" acts and voted 7 - 3 to approve
it. After hearing witnesses, three Republicans joined the Democrats in support
of HB 2414, introduced by state Representative Kathi Foster (D-Phoenix).
Phoenix attorney Brendan Mahoney appeared before the Committee on behalf of
the Arizona Human Rights Fund (AHRF), the statewide gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender rights organization. He testified that Arizonas archaic laws
are unenforceable that indeed the last attempt to enforce them was more
than 30 years ago. Mahoney said that these laws do have a use, however: to
discriminate against segments of the population, in most cases gays and
lesbians. Arizonas laws, specifically those dealing with cohabitation
Mahoney said, puts Arizona gays and lesbians in an awkward position when
filing a job application, or applying for government benefits if they are
honest, they could be punished.
Opponents of HB 2414 were present for the Judiciary Committee hearing to
state their case on why Arizonas archaic laws should not be repealed, but
when questioned by Committee members on their reasoning behind their
opposition, those witnesses didnt respond to the questions directly.
The "Oil Change" and "Shoplifting" Arguments
The Reverend Andrew Constentino, executive director of the Interfaith
Council for Sound Government, was first to testify. Constentino compared
people and the act of procreation to taking ones car to a mechanic and that
repealing the archaic laws would be a "dangerously destructive, lube and
oil change for the nation," whereas "People should follow the
manufacturers manual, the Bible." State Representative Bill Brotherton
(D-Phoenix) asked Constentino whether scripture allows married heterosexual
couples to commit sodomy. Constentino said that "wasnt the main issue
and that God presents the answer in scripture."
Private citizen Charlotte Reed followed, saying that she was against
repealing the archaic laws because "Any social conduct outside of
marriage is wrong." After Charlotte spoke Malcolm Reed came forward to
say "homosexuality is the equivalent for abhorrent behavior, like
Concerned Women for America (CWA), a conservative, anti-gay, political
group, was represented by Patricia Oldroid, who testified that if HB 2414 is
passed, it would send a message to the people that "the state doesnt
believe in marriage between a man and a woman." Without citing a source
for her statistics, Oldroid said that cohabitating couples are 180 percent
more likely to experience or participate in domestic violence and that 115
percent of children in these relationships live in poverty, with 15 to 30
percent victims of child abuse. Representative Foster questioned whether this
testimony was relevant to the bill itself. State Representative Linda Binder
(R-Lake Havasu City) asked whether a senior citizen couple, living together,
not married because of marriage tax penalties and losing benefits from Social
Security, should suffer. Oldroid failed to answer Binder.
Only Punish Fornicators
Norma Odezzio, the CWA legislative liaison, called homosexuality an "unnormal
lifestyle" and warned that passage of the bill would "be an act of
legitimacy" for the homosexual activists. In her testimony, Odezzio
stated the dictionary defines anal sex as "an unnatural act between two
men. And an unnatural between a man and an animal." Representative Foster
then asked Odezzio, "As a married woman, I have violated Arizonas
archaic laws, should I be punished?" Odezzio said the laws shouldnt go
into the bedroom.
Keeping Arizonas archaic laws on the books sends a message that the
state will protect womens rights according to John Atkins, a former
Republican legislative candidate. Atkins testified that "the same moral
principles which governed 1000 years ago, still govern today."
Representative Brotherton asked Atkins "Whether a senior citizen couple,
or a gay or lesbian couple, that have lived together for more than 5, 10 or 20
years together and are model citizens, should be prosecuted under Arizonas
archaic laws?" Atkins said "the laws shouldnt apply to either but
to those people who are promiscuous and commit fornication." He didnt
elucidate on who was promiscuous and commits fornication, triggering an
argument between himself and Representative Binder, who followed up with
questions about married heterosexual couples committing fornication. Atkins
refused to answer her questions, stating he didnt "want to muddy the
An individual who was in the public eye seven years ago trying to overturn
ordinances in Arizona which prohibited discrimination based on sexual
orientation, followed Atkins. Frank Meliti, regional head of the Traditional
Values Coalition, said Arizonas archaic laws helped a Glendale neighborhood
rid a city park of "sodomy and other unnatural acts." He went on to
state that there were other instances where these laws helped clean up bad
situations, but didnt cite specifics something Meliti has a track
record of doing.
Meliti and his group took out petitions to place a proposition on the 1994
general election ballot which would have outlawed state and local ordinances
that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. During a press
conference outside the Arizona Secretary of States office, July 7, 1994,
Meliti said the group had gathered 247,000 signatures, well over the 158,311
then required to place the measure on the ballot, but wouldnt file the
petitions, because "militant homosexuals" would keep the issue tied
up in court for years. When asked by reporters to open the four cardboard
boxes sealed with duct tape which he had said held the petitions, Meliti
refused to do so.
During his testimony, Meliti continually stated that he "didnt hate
homosexuals but doesnt approve of them." Representative Brotherton, an
attorney, pointed out to Meliti that it wasnt Arizonas archaic laws
which helped the Glendale neighborhood deal with the situation in the parks,
but the "Public Sexual Indecency Act," under which violations are
class 1 misdemeanors. Brotherton then asked whether a married couple should be
prosecuted for committing oral sex. Meliti declined to answer because he
wouldnt want to "muddy the water."
"A Great Step"
After the "muddying of the water" by opponents, two persons
representing political groups who support repealing the archaic laws,
testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union,
testified that HB 2414 wouldnt legalize adultery and wouldnt permit non
consensual sex. She went on to question why conservatives support these laws,
since they "invade the boardroom and bedroom." "It is not the
job of government," Eisenberg said concluding her testimony, "to
determine what sex between consenting adults is normal."
Marjorie Mead, a lobbyist for the National Organization for Women (NOW),
testified that the group supports HB 2414, and that she was "astounded
such archaic measures are still on the books."
Representatives Foster, Binder, Brotherton, Peter Hershberger (R-Oro
Valley), James Sedillo (D-Flagstaff), Henry Camarot (D-Prescott), and
Judiciary Committee Chair Roberta Voss (R-Glendale) voted in favor.
Representatives John Nelson (R-Glendale), Steve Tully (R-Phoenix) and Marilyn
Jarrett (R-Mesa) voted no.
Steve May (R), the openly gay state Representative from Phoenix called the
vote "a great step," and his new gay colleague Representative Ed
Poelstra (R-Tucson) said it was "long overdue." AHRF co-chair Kathie
Gummerie expressed her pleasure in the 7 - 3 vote, but added that people need
to get active for the next step in the legislative process. HB 2414 now goes
to House Human Services Committee chaired by conservative state Representative
Mark Anderson (R-Mesa), who is trying with other legislation (HB 2403) to
prohibit cities from cutting off government funding to the Boy Scouts of
America because of their anti gay policies. If either the Speaker of the
Arizona House or the Senate President doesnt like a particular bill, it
will get assigned to two committees and must be heard and approved by both
before going to the respective Rules Committee.
So is this the end of HB 2414? Representative Foster, said she intends to
go to the House Speaker and ask to have the bill heard before the Human
Services Committee. Kathie Gummerie said that AHRF members should contact
members of the House Human Services Committee, and ask them to request to have
HB 2414 heard. Representative May said that alternative parliamentary
maneuvers to get the bill to the House floor will be considered, but he
remains optimistic that the legislature will approve a measure repealing the
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