Last edited: November 15, 2003

Rights Bills Wobbly or Dead

Advocates hoped to repeal state’s archaic sex laws

The Arizona Republic, March 13, 2001
Box 1950, Phoenix, AZ 85001
Fax: 602-271-8933

By Beth DeFalco

When the legislative session opened, optimistic civil-rights advocates were convinced that a new batch of more moderate legislators meant this would be the year.

It would be the year that discrimination based on sexual orientation would be outlawed. It would be the year that it would be legal to live with an unmarried partner.

It would be the year that laws making sodomy and oral sex illegal would be banished from state statutes.

Halfway through the session, however, the few bills that remain alive in the ambitious package are on wobbly ground:

Two bills to repeal the state’s archaic sex laws, SB 1014 and HB 2414, are stalled in committees and are effectively dead.

A bill to ban employment discrimination on the sole basis of sexual orientation, HB 2237, is also stalled in committee and effectively dead.

A bill modernizing language in the civil-rights protection code, HB 2319, passed the House Judiciary Committee only after a clause outlining the ban on sexual orientation discrimination was stripped from it.

Still, backers of the bills say they’re glad they’ve gotten this far.

"We think we have the votes for the bills on the House and Senate floor; the problem seems to be getting the measures there," said Kathie Gummere, a lobbyist for the Arizona Human Rights Fund, which support gay rights.

Bipartisan sponsorship and discharge petitions, which extract any bill stuck in the Rules Committee and bring it to vote before the full membership, are responsible for breathing life back into the measures that traditionally have been dead on arrival.

Because of that, religious conservatives and business associations say they’ve never had to fight so hard to kill them.

"There is a greater willingness to consider bills on the gay agenda because this is the most moderate Legislature to date," said Cathi Herrod, a lobbyist for the faith-based Center for Arizona Policy.

Because of the petitions and the number of new faces at the Capitol, two bills on the Human Right’s Fund agenda are keeping the cause alive.

SB 1225, to ban sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace was pushed to the floor with a discharge petition after being nearly killed in the Senate Commerce Committee.

A new bill, HB 2016, to repeal the sex laws was recently introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Steve May. It was pushed to the House floor by a discharge petition for fear of being killed in the Rules Committee.

The last-ditch effort by May, R-Phoenix, who is openly gay, may have saved it.

May revived the bill by packaging it as the 2000 Equity Tax Act. Because federal tax law allows people to claim dependent deductions for people who are a part of their household - even if they are not a family member - May argues that keeping unmarried cohabitation illegal would also prevent heterosexual couples from claiming the tax benefit. The bill is scheduled to be heard on the House floor Wednesday.

It is that heterosexual benefit, not the homosexual protection, that some say is helping the repeal of archaic sex laws. Last year, a similar bill to repeal the archaic sex laws failed on the Senate floor after a tie vote, one vote too short to pass.

(Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8404.)

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