Last edited: November 15, 2003

Arizona House Nixes Sodomy Repeal

Planet Out, April 29, 1998

Arizona's House Speaker goes behind his openly gay colleague's back to engineer the defeat of sex law reform, but there May be more than one way to slither through the desert.

Despite having a majority of votes in support of repealing Arizona's archaic laws dealing with sodomy and cohabitation, conservative members of the House led by the Speaker have killed the proposal through parliamentary maneuvering. On April 22, the state House Committee of the Whole had approved by voice vote SB 1396, which would repeal the sex laws and also expand the protections under the state's domestic violence laws to include same-gender couples who live together. The series of votes that led to passage 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."

That freedom lasted less than a week.

On Wednesday, April 28, House Speaker Jeff Groscost (R-Mesa) put SB 1396 on the House Third Reading calendar. According to sources, Groscost had the bill considered after finding out that May would be absent for the day. A vote was taken and the bill failed by a vote of 30 in favor, 26 against and four not voting, with 31 votes needed for passage.

Later that day, conservative opponent of the amendments, state Representative Linda Gray (R-Glendale, who also had tried to ban gay and lesbian school clubs during this session), made a motion for reconsideration. The motion failed by voice vote, killing SB 1396 for the session (since the rules do not permit more than one such motion). According to sources, this reconsideration was done when very few members were actually on the House floor and after a questionable call to vote by the Speaker.

Amelia Craig Cramer, co-chair of the Arizona Human Rights Fund (AHRF), the state's largest gay and lesbian rights organization, said she was "disappointed that despite a majority of legislators seeing the wisdom of repealing Arizona's archaic sex laws, a few derailed the process." According to Ron Passarelli of AHRF, an E-mail campaign is being launched to resurrect the proposals through another bill -- as May says he plans to attach the three amendments to other bills pending that are germane during the rest of this legislative session.

Meanwhile, May has been active in opposing another pending measure under somewhat ironic circumstances. In 1996, the Arizona Legislature approved a state version of the Defense of Marriage Act, forbidding the state from recognizing same-sex marriages. As many legislators put it at the time, their opposition was because they didn't want to give gays and lesbians, "special rights." Now in 1999, the state Legislature is considering bill SB 1314, which would give gays and lesbians "special rights" over married couples when it comes to campaign contributions.

SB 1314 deals with campaign finance. An amendment to this bill would prohibit the "married spouses" of candidates from contributing to the respective campaign. Under Arizona law, "marriage" is defined, as "between a man and a woman." So if SB 1314 passes, the life-partner of a gay or lesbian candidate would be still able to make a contribution. May and AHRF have come out in opposition to the proposal, citing that gays and lesbians should have "equal rights," not "special rights." The measure currently awaits a third reading by the state House, having been pulled from the April 28 calendar.

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