PHOENIX — A new initiative drive seeks to provide gay Arizonans, denied the right to marry, another option.
The proposal filed Tuesday with the Secretary of State's Office would legally create "civil partnerships" in the state. In essence, it would provide every benefit and requirement that now exists under state marriage laws — every one, that is, except the actual word "marriage."
It would set up procedures for courts to dissolve the partnerships, just like a divorce, with the same grounds.
The measure is being pushed by Mesa resident Gino Meriano, who owns Pink Weddings, which helps gay couples organize civil-commitment ceremonies. Meriano, a citizen of Great Britain but a U.S. resident, said the couples should have the same legal rights as those who can marry, a right he said they already have in his home country.
Campaign treasurer Philip Cotton said Meriano is providing the initial financial support to help gather the 230,047 valid signatures necessary to put the measure on the 2010 ballot.
Whether Arizonans would support the plan is unclear.
Last year state voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. That measure, which simply repeated what has been state law since 1996, was designed to keep courts from voiding that statute.
But voters rejected a broader initiative in 2006 that would have banned not only same-sex weddings but also constitutionally prohibited the kind of partnerships this proposal seeks to create. It also would have barred government agencies from providing benefits to the domestic partners of their employees.
Meriano said his experience in Great Britain, which approved civil partnerships in 2005, convinces him that those who oppose letting gays wed are more willing to provide them with similar legal rights.
He even added a provision that would bar these partnership ceremonies from being held during any religious ceremony. Meriano said that should overcome the objections of those concerned the measure would interfere with religious beliefs.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which backed both earlier ballot measures, said her group will oppose this plan to create what she called "marriage counterfeits."
"Marriage — and the benefits of marriage — should be reserved for one man and one woman," Herrod said.
According to the campaign Web site, approval of the measure would put gay couples who went through the civil ceremony on the same legal footing as those married under state law. These include tax benefits, hospital visitation rights, protection from domestic violence, being able to collect benefits after a partner's death and the ability to inherit a partner's assets on death even without a will.
Conversely, it would provide the same obligation for financial support of a partner that exists in marriage laws as well as any children in the partnership.
But none of that would provide any tax or other benefits under federal laws, just as gays who legally marry in other states cannot file their federal tax returns jointly.
Some of what the initiative seeks already is available to some Arizonans.
For example, the state, several cities and Pima County already offer health coverage to the domestic partners of their employees.
Tucson has a domestic-partner registry that requires hospitals to grant visitation rights to those who sign up. Mesa is considering a similar measure.
"Marriage — and the benefits of marriage —
should be reserved for one man and one woman."
Cathi Herrod, president, Center for Arizona Policy