Last edited: November 15, 2003

Arizona Lifts Sodomy Ban

May’s bill ends 20-year fight for ‘archaic law’ repeal

Washington Blade, May 11, 2001

By Will O’Bryan

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 homosexuals.

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, Hull’s course of action was anybody’s guess. The Arizona Republic reported that Hull’s 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 seven years.

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.

"I’d 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. Some of my far-right constituents and party activists are upset. I’m sure they’ll mount a good challenge to my re-election. 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 believe."

Gummere said that Sen. David Peterson (R) sounded a call to halt the Equity Act on Tuesday. If supporters of Arizona’s 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 wouldn’t 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 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 household."

The Arizona Equity Act of 2001 is scheduled to take effect 90 days after the session ends.

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