PHOENIX - Gay marriage proponents launched a campaign Monday to change the Arizona constitution's definition of marriage a mere five years after voters approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in this month on the national debate on marriage equality.
The newly formed Equal Marriage Arizona campaign hopes to collect roughly 400,000 signatures to get its constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014. It would define marriage as between two persons rather than a man and a woman. The measure states that religious organizations wouldn't be required to officiate a gay marriage.
The petition drive comes as the Supreme Court is expected to release its ruling this month on gay marriage. Many observers believe the court will rule that individual states must decide whether gay marriage should be legal, and Equal Marriage Arizona wants to position voters to change the state's course on marriage equality.
"The attitudes of this state, of the people of this state, have changed a lot," said Warren Meyer, a Phoenix business owner leading the initiative effort. "We believe that Arizonans are ready for equal marriage."
It's unclear whether Arizona's many conservative voters will make that leap. The 2008 gay marriage ban passed with 56 percent of the vote. More recently, Bisbee became the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples in April. Several other cities, including Tempe, have since said they are considering similar civil union ordinances.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule by late June in two cases involving same-sex marriage. One is a challenge to California's voter-approved Proposition 8 that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The other seeks to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies government benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Equal Marriage Arizona's organizers submitted paperwork to launch their campaign Monday with the Arizona Secretary of State's office. They said they will wait for the Supreme Court's decision before launching their signature drive. The campaign expects to receive local and national donations to fund the ballot effort, which will include paid signature gathers. Organizers said they will appeal to religious voters by making the case that gay marriage ensures individual liberty.
"It's about equality," said organizer Erin Ogletree Simpson, chair of the Arizona Log Cabin Republican. "The one way to ensure equality is to have the same kind of legally recognized rights, responsibilities, obligations."
In May, Minnesota became the 12th state, plus the District of Columbia, to approve same-sex unions. The others are: Delaware, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington.