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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
July 21, 2006

Five straight couples sue to stop Arizona ban amendment

Phoenix, Ariz.--Another front opened in the battle over anti-gay marriage amendments on July 12, with five heterosexual couples filing suit against a proposed measure in Arizona.

The opposite-sex couples filed suit to stop the amendment, arguing that it violates rules restricting ballot initiatives to a single subject.

According to the suit, the amendment deals with three different issues, marriage, civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The five duos include three elderly couples from Tucson and two employees of the city of Phoenix and their partners.

�If Protect Marriage Arizona passes, it will take a lot away from us,� said plaintiff Maxine Piatt. �For example, last year I was in and out of the hospital at least four times.�

�If it hadn�t been for Al, I wouldn�t be here,� she continued. �Because of our domestic partnership arrangement, he was able to make decisions for me when I was unable to. Without our domestic partnership agreement, he probably couldn�t have even gotten in to see me, let alone make medical decisions for me.�

�The thought of that breaks my heart,� she said.

�We are both on Social Security,� said her partner Al Brezney, �which is a very small amount. In our case remaining unmarried, but bound together in a domestic partnership is our only means of financial survival. Together we can make it, but separately we can�t.�

�My partner Teri and I have been able to breathe easier because of our domestic partner benefits,� said Phoenix firefighter Paul Knobbe. �I�m able to provide health care insurance for our family. If that goes away, it will be a financial blow to our family.�

The couples are joined in the suit by Arizona Together, a coalition fighting against the state�s proposed constitutional amendment.

�This initiative seeks to make several drastic public policy changes in one swift move,� attorney Lisa T. Hauser said. �Voters have the right to assess one issue at a time and may support one issue without supporting the other.�

�This ballot bundles three very different issues into one, including the dismantling of employer benefits for both straight and same-sex domestic partners, which is of great concern to my clients,� said the co-counsel.

If the case is successful, it would run counter to recent rulings on state amendments in Nebraska and Tennessee.

The only federal marriage ruling

In Nebraska, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on July 14 overturned a lower court ruling that struck the state�s marriage ban amendment, ruling that it supported a legitimate state interest to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

The case is the only one where a federal court has ruled on a state marriage ban amendment.

The lower court ruled in 2005 that the amendment was overly broad and deprived same-sex couples of access to the political process by rendering appeals to their legislators useless.

The ban was approved by voters in 2000, with 70 percent of the Nebraskans who went to the polls supporting the measure.

Green lights in Georgia, Tennessee

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled on July 6 that civil unions and marriages were effectively the same construct, and therefore the state�s marriage ban did not violate the one-subject rule. Georgia�s ban, passed in 2004, is very similar to Ohio�s.

On the same day that the U.S. Circuit Court decided the Nebraska case, the Tennessee Supreme Court gave the go-ahead for an amendment to appear on ballots in November, despite arguments that the secretary of state published the amendment six weeks after its deadline, violating the Tennessee constitution�s requirements.

The court dismissed the case, claiming that the plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, lacked standing to sue, failing to show that they would be harmed if the amendment went on the ballot.

With Tennessee and Arizona, if the couples� suit is not successful, eight states will send marriage ban amendments to the ballot in November. The others are Colorado, Idaho, Virginia, Wisconsin, South Carolina and South Dakota.

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