I am finally able to say it: I’ve been in the loop on the first initiative of its kind here in Arizona. Currently, 12 states have legalized gay marriage. Now, Equal Marriage Arizona – helmed by conservatives and libertarians – has come out with amendments to the Arizona constitution that would legalize gay marriage for the first time in a Red State.
Today I joined a meeting that began with people from both ends of the political spectrum to begin coming up with strategy and attempting to enlist gay rights groups in an effort to bring marriage equality to the state I currently reside in. The tension was palpable; I could almost say there were some who exuded animosity at certain times. During our discussions, some could not help but bring up the fact that they’ve been working on equality for a long time. I couldn’t help but wonder whether that was their way of saying they knew better than the conservatives leading the charge what to do or if it was their ego coming out to say, “we want credit” – either way, I felt a sense that we had taken a big step forward in achieving something that no primarily conservative state has been able to accomplish yet.
A good friend and the chair of Arizona Log Cabin Republicans Caucus, Erin Simpson, had let me in on it and asked me to keep it on the down-low since nobody was sure if it would make it off the ground. I was excited to meet some of the other people behind the initiative and get the chance to hear everyone’s concerns, and I was particularly excited to finally be able to say publicly that we could actually win this.
I have said many times before that I would never support any marriage equality bill that did not also include specific provisions to reinforce religious freedom. Any law I got behind would have to explicitly protect the right of any church or religious organization to refuse to assert their freedom of religious expression and refuse to marry a couple, whether gay or straight. This initiative does exactly that. It is exactly two sentences, changing the language of the bill that was voted into law in 2008 that declared marriage as being between one man and one woman. It changes the language from defining marriage as between “a man and a woman” to being between “two persons”. Also added is the following phrase:
“A religious organization, religious association, or religious society shall not be required to solemnize or officiate any particular marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of its Constitutional right to free exercise of religion.”
No church will ever be forced to marry a gay couple if they choose not to. The doomsday predictions that churches will be sued for such refusals are shut down before they even begin. Gay and lesbian couples get their right to marry and Evangelicals are protected – which was exactly what I was personally after. And – bonus! – it’s been started by right-leaning leaders in the Arizona political scene. Erin is also a lesbian, a successful retired lawyer, and a wonderful woman with a lot of experience and wisdom to add to the debate on equality. The co-chair, Warren Meyer, is a successful businessman and libertarian. Others who are on board now once didn’t believe in marriage equality. That they are so honest is inspiring to me. It gives me hope that we can live in peace.
Equality is coming. It’s inevitable. I would simply prefer to have a say in all the other issues that come with it, and I am happy that things are changing.
UPDATE: after re-reading this post, I am aware that I didn’t explain something very well. I was never aware before the day of the meeting that this legislation was coming. I knew that SOMETHING was about to happen, but I did not know what until the day of the first meeting. When I finally got to the meeting and found out what it was, I had a very hard time not whipping my phone out and sharing the news with everyone. Someone that I know and respect was helping to get this initiative off the ground and I did not want to say anything until I had the green light from them. I apologize that this was not clearer when I first posted this.