Arizona debates gay marriage

Flagstaff, AZ – If passed, Proposition 107 would amend the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It would prohibit the state or its political subdivisions from recognizing any legal status similar to that of marriage.

A political subdivision may be a state, county or city. That would include state universities and public schools.

Prop 107 opponents are quick to point out that means under this amendment those entities could no longer offer domestic partner benefits for unmarried couples - gay or straight. State Representative Kyrstin Sinema is the spokeswoman for Arizona Together.

SINEMA: A woman employed by the city of Phoenix who has a long term boyfriend who has a child -- let's say that child has asthma and he needs asthma medication - would lose that ability to get that asthma medication the day after the initiative passed. So it's not just this esoteric idea of it could maybe nebulously hurt people. Real people will lose something that we all take for granted which is health care and they will lose it the day after the election.

The Center for Arizona Policy, formerly led by gubernatorial candidate Len Munci, wrote the initiative and gathered the signatures to put it on the ballot. Peter Gentalla is the center's general counsel.

GENTALLA: Prop 107 allows for benefits to be given by the government on an equal basis for all employees. Utah has a marriage amendment, which was passed in 2004. And what Salt Lake City has elected to do for its benefits schemes for all city employees is to say every city employee has a certain number of designees that they can name to receive their health care insurance benefits or whatever city benefits follow their employment.

But Kyrstin Sinema says health care programs like this one don't currently exist in Arizona and they cost three times as much as domestic partner programs.

SINEMA: Under a scheme he's talking about I could insure my next door neighbor. I could invite her to move into my spare bedroom. And say she has liver cancer the state would have to pay for her benefits.

Center for Arizona Policy spokeswoman Cathi Herrod says private companies that offer domestic partner benefits won't be affected but she admits public employees will.

She realizes there's already an Arizona law that defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman. It had one test in the state supreme court and the law was upheld. But Cathi Herrod says they need to strengthen the law.

HERROD: The issue is that further court cases will be forthcoming over the next few years. We have yet to see for example that same sex couples who have a marriage license in Massachusetts move to Arizona and try to have their marriage license acknowledged legally here.

Several church leaders have weighed in on the issue including Pastor Jim Dorman at Christ's Church of Flagstaff. He plans to vote in favor of the marriage amendment.

DORMAN: Marriage was established in Genesis chapter 2 and as an originator of the covenant God established that marriage would be between a man and a woman. That's been the standard. It was the law in America for a couple hundred years. We recognize even though it's still the law in Arizona, laws have been challenged and overturned in the court system. And so we're looking to strengthen that standard.

Dorman's church doesn't have an official position on the amendment, although his congregation gathered signatures to put the initiative before voters.

Across town at the Federated Community Church of Flagstaff Pastor Jed Schenk believes Prop 107 is unfair.

SCHENK: First of all Jesus Christ in scripture, namely the four gospels, says nothing about homosexuality. Jesus' mission was to share love, compassion and justice for human kind. Proposition 107 to me shows nothing about love, shows nothing about compassion and shows nothing about justice. So I look at it as being a very anti-Christian proposal rather than anything that really upholds Christian values.

Pastor Dorman agrees Christians must exhibit the compassion of God.

DORMAN: but also declare the standard of behavior that he has identified. When we look at Jesus' life he encountered a group of men who had caught a woman in adultery. Jesus looked at her and said, who judges you?' And she said, no one.' He said, neither do I but go and sin no more' so even in the standard of compassion there was the standard of an expectation of adhering to a moral value.

SCHENK: I would agree with that but I don't think that it is one particular person, one particular church or one particular faith tradition to impose morals on everybody.

Pastor Jed Schenk says he doesn't preach his view from the pulpit but expresses his opinion through a progressive Christian group that takes action on social issues.

Fred Solop is the director of Northern Arizona University's Social Research Laboratory. Solop has surveyed voters four times on the gay marriage issue since 2003.

SOLOP: 7 Our research shows that people oppose gay marriage. When you throw those words at people, people automatically react and say no. No, that's wrong. But people support civil unions. They support the concept of couples coming together and providing support and benefits for even same sex couples in a civil union.

The latest poll by the Social Research Lab shows Prop 107 is supported by 51 percent of likely voters.

Another poll that explicitly lays out the initiative's effects on benefits shows only 30 percent of those questioned intend to vote for Prop 107.

For Arizona Public Radio, I'm Laurel Morales.