Arizona Lifts Sodomy Ban
Mays bill ends 20-year fight for archaic law repeal
May 11, 2001
By Will OBryan
Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull (R) signed the Arizona Equity Act of 2001
into law Tuesday, ending a 20-year struggle to repeal state laws that
prohibited any sex acts not intended for procreation, including sodomy, and
made it illegal for unmarried couples to live together. The laws applied to
both heterosexuals and homosexuals.
"I listened to advocates for both sides, I read messages from
constituents with different points of view, I talked to my closest advisers
and I examined my own conscience," Hull wrote Tuesday in a letter to Rep.
James Weiers, the speaker of the House. "At the end of the day, I
returned to one of my most basic beliefs about government - it does not belong
in our private lives."
The Arizona repeal leaves 17 states with sodomy laws. Of those, five
prohibit only same-sex sodomy.
Rhode Island was the last state to repeal a sodomy ban, doing so through
legislative action in 1998. That law applied to both heterosexuals and
During the current legislative season, sodomy bans in Texas and Virginia
have also been challenged. The Virginia effort has already failed, while the
Texas bill passed out of committee April 18 and awaits to be scheduled for a
hearing on the House floor.
Following passage of the Arizona Equity Act in the Legislature, Hull had
until midnight Tuesday to sign the bill into to law, ignore the bill and let
it become law automatically, or veto the bill. Until she signed it, Hulls
course of action was anybodys guess. The Arizona Republic reported that
Hulls office was receiving calls nearly two-to-one in favor of a veto.
"The numbers were very misrepresentative," said Kathie Gummere,
interim director of the Arizona Human Rights Fund. The HRF, a Gay advocacy
group, has been fighting for repeal of "archaic laws" for the past
State Rep. Steve May (R), one of three openly Gay Arizona state legislators
and the primary sponsor of the bill, said that, among his constituents, the
majority favored the repeal legislation.
"Id say my constituents support the repeal at least 75-25 percent
now that they have read so much about it," May told the Blade Wednesday.
"In the early stages of the battle, there was a lot of misinformation and
people were much more evenly divided. In my district, there might have been
majority opposition. However, even those who were adamantly opposed to the
repeal changed over time to believe that the archaic laws should be amended
but not totally repealed.
"Basically, they wanted to remove the prohibition on sex acts between
married couples but leave in the laws against cohabitation and/or sodomy. This
is the first time that the public has been actively engaged in a substantive
conversation about the repeal. ä Some of my far-right constituents and party
activists are upset. Im sure theyll mount a good challenge to my
re-election. ä But because I was allowed to explain the issue time and again
through the press, most of my constituents support the repeal, or so I
Gummere said that Sen. David Peterson (R) sounded a call to halt the Equity
Act on Tuesday. If supporters of Arizonas sodomy law, and the other laws
slated for appeal, could gather 80,000 signatures in 90 days, the issue could
be put to a referendum. Gummere said that effort was abandoned by Wednesday
morning in light of the widespread support for the Equity Act.
May said that he does not think his Equity Act will be threatened by a
repeal movement. But while the current session was slated to have ended May
10, May said these issues will likely rear their heads when the next session
begins in January 2002.
"Next year, the religious right is likely to attempt to outlaw sodomy
on its own and/or attempt to impose further laws which penalize cohabitating
couples," said May. "They feel that they need to penalize
cohabitation in order to defend marriage. There was brief talk about a
referendum, but they have already abandoned that. They know they wouldnt
have a chance at the ballot box."
Another aspect of the Equity Act, said May, is that it would make it legal
for cohabitating couples, either same-sex or opposite-sex, to claim a tax
benefit previously denied.
"Federal IRS code prohibits a taxpayer from taking a deduction for an
unrelated dependent if the taxpayer and the dependent are in a relationship
against the law," May explained. "Our archaic laws included a
prohibition against open and notorious cohabitation. This results in a
federal and state tax penalty that ranges from $500-$800 per taxpayer per
year, depending on their tax situation."
May said that a common misunderstanding is that his law would lift this
penalty for unmarried heterosexual couples only.
"Some homosexuals have not claimed the deduction because they believed
that their deduction would be disallowed either under the cohabitation statute
or ä the sodomy statute. My bill makes it clear that cohabitating
heterosexual and homosexual couples may take the deduction if they qualify for
it under the normal support test requirements - basically, a single income for
The Arizona Equity Act of 2001 is scheduled to take effect 90 days after
the session ends.
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