Foes of a constitutional ban on gay marriage derailed a plan today to put the measure on the November ballot.
The House on Thursday did give preliminary approval on a 28-27 margin to put the question on the November ballot. But that vote came only after Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, lined up enough votes to tack on a provision to grant certain rights to unmarried couples living together.
That move effectively tied the two issues together as a single ballot question, so voters who want to make same-sex weddings unconstitutional would also be approving some constitutional rights for gay couples. A spokesman for House Speaker Jim Weiers, sponsor of HCR2065, said that is unacceptable and that the proposal will be pulled.
Technically speaking, that does not kill plans by various groups to get a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in Arizona as solely between one man and one woman. Another version is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
But at this point, Sinema appears to have enough votes to tack her amendment onto the Senate bill when it comes up for a vote in the House, where it, too, would ultimately die.
Thursday’s vote is a big defeat for several groups lobbying for the constitutional ban. Rep. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, a supporter of the measure, huddled after the vote with representatives of the Center for Arizona Policy and the Arizona Catholic Conference, which lobbies for the three bishops who preside in the state.
But Barbara McCullough-Jones, president of Equality Arizona, hailed the maneuver as “a win for Arizona families.” Her group describes itself as the only statewide organization representing gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.
State law already bars same-sex marriages.
But only a voter-approved constitutional amendment would prohibit courts or future state legislators from altering or repealing that.
“We do not want an issue that is this important — marriage, the fundamental building block of society — to be decided by any person other than the people,” Yarbrough said.
Sinema has repeatedly made it clear she opposes the idea of a constitutional ban on gay marriages. She said, though, her amendment was not specifically designed to kill the measure but “to ensure that, while talking about the issue of same-sex marriage, we also raise the issue that unmarried couples in Arizona should have basic legal rights and protections.”
Her amendment would guarantee the right to hospital visitation, medical decision-making, funeral and burial arrangements and inheritance to unmarried couples “who are in an emotionally committed relationship that involves shared domestic and economic responsibilities.”
Yarbrough, however, said the proposal is a significant — and he believes deeply flawed — change in laws on inheritance.
Under current law, he said, the assets of someone who dies without a will go to the spouse. If there is no spouse, then they go to the children or, if none, to the parents.
“Under this amendment, if a single mother dies without a will, the live-in boyfriend can get everything and the kids get nothing,” Yarbrough said. “And there is no duty for the boyfriend to support the children.”
He also poked fun at the wording, saying lawyers will have a field day trying to figure out what is an “emotionally committed relationship.”
Yarbrough said that could even be interpreted to include a platonic relationship between roommates. “Are they not sharing domestic responsibilities?” he asked.
Sinema, who is a lawyer, said she did not craft the amendment herself. It was written by legislative staff.
Four Republicans joined the 23 Democrats present on the House floor to provide Sinema the margin of victory she needed to tack her amendment on to the proposal: Marian McClure, Pete Hershberger and Jennifer Burns, all of Tucson, and Michele Reagan of Scottsdale.