Last edited: January 01, 2005

Will Court Case Help Marriage Lawsuit for Ariz. Gay Couple?

Arizona Republic, July 16, 2003
Box 1950, Phoenix, AZ 85001
Fax: 602-271-8933

By Carol Sowers, The Arizona Republic

Backers of same-sex marriage are reluctant to say that a recent Supreme Court ruling strengthens a lawsuit filed this week by two gay Arizonans who want to marry each other.

Harold Donald Standhardt, 34, and Tod Alan Keltner, 36, on Monday asked the Arizona Court of Appeals to overturn the state’s prohibition on same-sex marriages. They base their suit on a June 26 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Texas law that made gay sex illegal.

Kathie Gummere, spokeswoman for Arizona Human Rights Fund, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender state residents, said the high court ruling “gave us more than we expected.”

But she was wary of predicting whether it will give momentum to the suit filed this week or similar suits already filed in Massachusetts, Maine, Hawaii and New Jersey.

“If the ruling had been different, we might have had less hope,” she said.

However, Kathleen McCarthy, a Tucson lawyer and a certified family-law specialist who speaks frequently on same-sex marriage and other domestic law issues, said she believes the decision will give a boost to the lawsuits.

“It will ease the ability to challenge these lawsuits,” she said.

Although the high court didn’t step into the politically unpopular arena of ordering states to approve same-sex marriages, Justice Antonin Scalia said the ruling would put such laws on “pretty shaky ground.”

Rudy Gerber, a Phoenix lawyer and former Arizona Appeals Court judge, said the U.S. Supreme Court based its Texas decision on privacy rights.

“Those rights aren’t in the Constitution, but the Supreme Court read them in,” he said. “Now the difficult constitutional question is how broadly they want to interpret those rights in sexual matters.”

The high court may be confronted with that question if gay couples lose their challenges to laws banning same-sex marriages and appeal to higher courts.

Lori Rocheleau, 40, says states would benefit from allowing same-sex couples to marry because it would force both members of the partnership to be responsible for children that they share.

Lori, said her partner, Renee Rocheleau, 35, underwent artificial insemination to give birth to their twin girls two years ago. Renee stays home to care for the twins, while Lori supports the family with her job as a Honeywell contract manager. Honeywell provides health insurance for domestic partners.

The two women aren’t married, but Lori took her partner’s name because they believe their 10-year-old union is as valid as any other marriage.

When gay couples split up, they have limited access to family court, where matters of child support, spousal maintenance, child custody and other issues are settled.

“I was part of the decision to have the twins,” Lori said. “I should be held responsible for them.”

But because Arizona, like every other state, bans same-sex marriages, their 2-year-old twin daughters don’t have the same legal rights and financial benefits of married parents, Lori says.

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