Last edited: November 15, 2003

Arizona Senate Retains Archaic Laws

PlanetOut News, March 30, 2000

By Mark R. Kerr, Tucson Weekly Observer

Laws against sodomy and cohabitation will stay on Arizona’s books now that a bill to repeal them has been stymied.

The last attempt possible during this legislative session to repeal Arizona’s archaic laws, which deal with sodomy and cohabitation, failed in the state Senate on March 29. As the Senate Committee of the Whole considered HB 2150, a bill dealing with DNA testing of prisoners, Senator Ed Cirillo (R-Sun City) offered a floor amendment to annul a law that makes it illegal for anyone other than married couples or familial relations to cohabitate. His measure also would have repealed Arizona’s sodomy statutes criminalizing certain sex acts for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, which have been on the books since 1901 but are seldom enforced.

During debate of Cirillo’s proposed floor amendment, Senate Majority Leader Rusty Bowers (R-Mesa) acknowledged the laws are not enforced but said the government has a proper role in setting standards. Senator Randall Gnant (R-Scottsdale) chided colleagues for campaigning on platforms of reducing government and getting government out of people’s lives and in turn, keeping such laws on the books.

Two votes were taken on the floor amendment. The tally in the first, a standing division, was 14 - 14, with two Senators absent; that was followed by a roll-call vote yielding the same results. Crossing of party lines was even, with five Republican senators joining nine Democratic senators to vote in favor of Cirillo’s amendment and five Democrats joining the nine Republicans in opposition.

Of those five Democrats two of the senators, Victor Soltero of Tucson and Gus Arzberger of Bisbee, had been co-sponsors of SB 1471, the original bill that would have repealed Arizona’s "blue laws" whose language was exactly the same as Cirillo’s amendment. SB 1471 was killed earlier in the session when it could not get a hearing before the Senate Family Services Committee. Sources stated that Arzberger said that since the laws were being ignored and no one is being arrested, "it wasn’t a problem to him." Another Democrat who voted against the Cirillo amendment, Senator Peter Rios (D-Hayden), had voted in favor of SB 1471 when it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 8. Neither Rios and Soltero were available for comment. According to some sources, all three had told repeal supporters that they intended to vote for Cirillo’s amendment.

"I am very disappointed that these three Democrat Senators went back on their word and voted against freedom and fairness," gay state Representative Steve May (R-Phoenix) commented. "Obviously this proves to even the most skeptical that the Democrats are not always with us. If not for these three Democrat Senators the Archaic Laws in Arizona would be off the books."

Meanwhile the state House of Representatives by a 47-8 vote approved SB 1173, which included an amendment extending the protection of the state’s domestic violence to same sex couples. Current statutes give protection to crime victims if the incident is determined to be one of domestic violence; under Arizona law, the police can arrest someone on reasonable belief without a warrant if an incident of domestic violence had occurred, but the victim had to be the spouse, former spouse or child of the person who committed or is accused of committing the crime. The amendment deletes the opposite sex requirement. SB 1173 has gone back to the state Senate to a conference committee; some observers believe that the amendment extending the protections to same sex couples might be short-lived.

One of the most outspoken opponents of lesbian and gay rights in the Arizona legislature has been state Representative Karen Johnson (R-Mesa). Just in the last two years alone, Johnson has attempted to get the state to forbid other governmental entities from extending benefits to the domestic partners of their employees (quoting material from the infamous Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps); increase the penalties under the state’s sodomy statutes; ban gay-straight school clubs; prevent school employees from joining groups that "promote" homosexuality and, cut funding for HIV/AIDS programs. In an interview in the Arizona Republic, Johnson was asked, "If state government could do only one thing for the people, what should it be?" She responded, "Get out of their lives as much as possible so the people would be responsible for themselves as our Founding Fathers originally intended."

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