Last edited: November 15, 2003

Arizona Panel OKs Sodomy Repeal

Planet Out, February 13, 2001

Despite opponents’ warnings that change is dangerous, an Arizona House committee voted to dump the state’s archaic and unenforceable sex laws. Mark R. Kerr, Tucson Weekly Observer & PlanetOut News Staff

Arizona’s House Judiciary Committee heard testimony February 13 on a bill that would repeal the state’s 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 Arizona’s 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. Arizona’s 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2414 were present for the Judiciary Committee hearing to state their case on why Arizona’s archaic laws should not be repealed, but when questioned by Committee members on their reasoning behind their opposition, those witnesses didn’t respond to the questions directly.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 one’s 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 "wasn’t 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 shoplifting."

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 doesn’t 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 Arizona’s archaic laws, should I be punished?" Odezzio said the laws shouldn’t go into the bedroom.

Keeping Arizona’s archaic laws on the books sends a message that the state will protect women’s 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 Arizona’s archaic laws?" Atkins said "the laws shouldn’t apply to either but to those people who are promiscuous and commit fornication." He didn’t 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 didn’t "want to muddy the waters."

Muddy Meliti

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 Arizona’s 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 didn’t 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 State’s 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 wouldn’t 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 "didn’t hate homosexuals but doesn’t approve of them." Representative Brotherton, an attorney, pointed out to Meliti that it wasn’t Arizona’s 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 wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t legalize adultery and wouldn’t 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 doesn’t 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 archaic laws.

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