Arizonans praise high court's gay marriage rulings

PHOENIX - Arizonans on both sides of the political spectrum praised the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage equality Wednesday while setting the stage for a new battle over the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

The Supreme Court struck down a provision of a law that denies federal benefits to married gay couples. It also cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California. But the court said nothing about gay marriage bans in other states.

Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said after the ruling that she didn't believe voters would support any effort to overturn the state's gay marriage ban.

"I think that (gays) can be extended certain kinds of privileges," she said. "But I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman."

Marriage equality proponents hope to use the high court rulings as leverage in a campaign to change the Arizona constitution and legalize gay marriage. Equal Marriage Arizona announced its ballot initiative earlier this month but delayed gathering signatures for its petition until the Supreme Court issued its rulings. The campaign hopes to collect roughly 400,000 signatures to get its constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014.

"This is the way Arizona can honor both individual liberty... and religious liberty," said organizer Erin Ogletree Simpson.

Volunteers and paid campaign workers intend to begin circulating the gay marriage petition on Thursday. 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 state's 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. Tempe and several other cities later said they are considering similar civil union ordinances.

Rebecca Wininger of Equality Arizona said she wasn't surprised that the Supreme Court didn't go further and declare marriage equality a civil rights issue, but she said the rulings were a win nevertheless because gay marriage was not struck down.

"Now we have more precedent on our side," she said. "It's another step toward full equality across the nation for the LGBT community, a little bit of validation that we are here and we are here to stay."

Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, praised the court for recognizing the will of Arizona voters who passed the gay marriage ban.  The influential organization plans to fight the referendum effort.

"It's important to note that the court did not legalize gay marriage for all 50 states," Herrod said. "We will continue to defend the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman."

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