Arizona’s LGBT Equal Rights Movement Gaining New Strength

Editor February 28, 2013 1

Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org

Those seeking full equality for the LGBT community are in for a busy year.  A long fight to end the policy “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) regarding gays serving in the military met with success in 2011, allowing military service regardless of sexual preference.  In October 2012 a federal appeals court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, as unconstitutional.  These victories may have given new strength to the LGBT equal rights movement going into 2013.

The U.S. Supreme Court will make the final decision on the Defense of Marriage Act this year and is going to be hearing a case on Proposition 8 in California.  A suit challenging Proposition 8, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is expected to go before the Court in March.  Many were surprised when it was announced this week that Republicans will file a brief Thursday supporting the constitutional right for same sex couples to marry. As of Monday night 75 have signed on to this brief.  Excerpts of the brief argue that no persuasive evidence exists to show that harm to children raised by a same sex couple or that marriage between a man and a women will be diluted in any way.

At the Arizona Legislature bill SB 1041 has been introduced to create civil unions which would provide same-sex couples many of the benefits currently enjoyed by heterosexual couples; such as community property, guardianship and burial rites. A push for such as measure has come from various community members and organizations including Equality Walkers – a group who each summer walks “a mile for every year Arizona has been a state without full legal recognition of LGBT people”.  The group also spends time reaching out to various government bodies and community groups to ask for support of same-sex marriage legislation in Arizona.  Crossing perceived barriers has been important in gaining support from allies such as the Unitarian Universalist Church and the Occupy movement.  While SB 1041 seems to have died in committee without a public hearing at the legislature, it seems to address a growing concern around the state.  The Equality Walkers, along with allied groups, are planning a march for marriage rights from downtown Phoenix to the State capitol this July.

Across the United States over 160 cities and counties have included the LGBT community in their non-discrimination policies.  On Tuesday, February 26th the Phoenix City Council voted to update language to Phoenix City Code to add “sexual orientation”, “gender identity or expression” and “disability” as three additional categories protected from discrimination.

Photo Credit: Alicia Canales/Downtown Devil

The Human Relations Ordinance to expand those groups protected from discrimination met with much controversy.  Opponents took to calling the measure the “Bathroom Bill” although it actually covers a wide area regarding employment, public accommodations, housing, and certain contracts with the City.  The meeting was moved from City Council chambers to the larger Orpheum Theatre to accommodate multiple groups and larger then normal attendance. The council was divided on the measure but ultimately the ordinance passed 5-3 with 1 council member absent. City staff indicated the measure would have no financial impact on city resources. However, councilman Sal DiCiccio noted the bill would impact local businesses with new code requirements and potentially open them up to more litigation.  Mayor Greg Stanton supported the ordinance and was recently involved in garnering support for a voluntary Unity Pledge signed by many individuals and businesses to support LGBT employment.  Stanton is expected to claim a victory for Phoenix equality in his State of the City address on February 28th.  Krysten Sinema, an Arizona Congresswomen, sent congratulations to City Councilman Tom Simplot saying “Discrimination not welcome in Phx!”

** To watch the Tuesday night Phoenix City Council meeting click here