Arizonans may get another chance to decide whether gays should be able to wed.
A Phoenix businessman and a retired Tucson attorney filed paperwork Monday morning seeking to put an issue on the 2014 ballot constitutionally defining marriage in the state as between any "two persons.'' That would overturn the 2008 voter-approved amendment saying marriage is limited to "one man and one woman.''
In a bid to blunt possible religious opposition, the same measure spells out that no religious organization is required to officiate or solemnize any particular marriage "in violation of its constitutional right to free exercise of religion.''
Backers need 259,213 valid signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the general election ballot that year. Erin Simpson, the retired lawyer and one of the organizers, said she hopes to collect close to 400,000.
Warren Meyer, the other key organizer, said he thinks attitudes have changed since 2008 when the ban on same-sex weddings was approved by a 56-44 margin.
"You see that in the polling data,'' he said. And Meyer said Arizonans now have the benefit of seeing 12 other states and the District of Columbia which have allowed gays to wed.
"And we see how that's working out for them,'' Meyer said.
"I think it's working well,'' he continued. "And I think that gives people increased confidence to bring equal marriage to Arizona.''
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which led the successful 2008 campaign, said she's not impressed with the polling numbers.
"The vote that counts is the vote at the ballot box,'' she said.
"All the talk about whether attitudes have changed about marriage definition or same-sex marriage is just that, it's talk,'' Herrod continued. "We will be prepared to work with our allies to preserve Arizona's constitutional amendment defining marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.''
Simpson, however, said the organization, named Equal Marriage Arizona, is hoping to build a broad-based coalition and not rely solely on traditional gay-rights groups for backing.
She said she is a Republican and Meyer is a Libertarian. And Simpson said they will be announcing a Democrat to co-chair the effort with Meyer.
"We're reaching out to everyone,'' Simpson said. "We think this is an issue that crosses ideologies and orientation.''
"The one challenge we have is obviously it's expensive,'' Meyer said, estimating it will take "millions'' to both pay circulators to get the issue on the ballot and then to run the public relations campaign. Meyer said his group has financial commitments from various sources but refused to disclose them, saying their names will become public when the required disclosure forms are filed.
The timing of the initiative drive is on purpose.
Meyer pointed out the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to issue a ruling on the legality of California's Proposition 8. It repealed that state's laws allowing gays to wed.
He had thought that ruling might come Monday. More to the point, he thinks the court, rather than issuing a broad decision saying that gays nationwide have a right to wed, will come down with a narrower ruling saying that issue is to be left to each state.
That, Meyer said, is why Arizona needs to repeal the 2008 constitutional amendment.
Simpson said she and Meyer made a conscious decision to pursue allowing gays to wed rather than the less-sweeping -- and potentially more politically acceptable -- option of permitting civil unions without conferring the label of "married'' on those involved.
"I think it's about equality,'' she said.
"The only way to have equality is to have the same kind of legally recognized rights, responsibilities, obligations,'' Simpson said. "What we're finding is that civil unions aren't exactly the same thing.''
Herrod said she does not see the fact that gay marriage has been approved elsewhere as helping proponents here.
"As we've seen in other states, when marriage is redefined, other rights are threatened including religious liberty rights,'' she said. And Herrod said the fact that this initiative has what's billed as an opt-out allowing religious groups to refuse to solemnize or officiate at such ceremonies may be insufficient to protect religious freedoms.
Meyer said part of the reason he is hopeful is that Arizonans narrowly defeated the first ballot measure in 2006 to ban same-sex weddings.
But that initiative actually was broader than the question of marriage. It also would have barred the state from recognizing civil unions or anything that would have given the same privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. That resulted in the scaled-back 2008 measure dealing solely with marriage.
Gov. Jan Brewer, who did not take an official position on the 2008 measure when she was secretary of state, said Monday she does not know whether voter attitudes have changed since then.
"I don't have a pulse on that issue whatsoever,'' she said.
But Brewer does have a record of sorts: Shortly after becoming governor she pushed through legislation to deny health insurance and other benefits to the partners of gay state and university employees. That overturned a personnel rule change advanced by Janet Napolitano, her predecessor.
A federal appeals court ruled the law illegal. The case remains on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, with the justices having put the issue on the back burner while they decide both the California gay marriage question as well as the legality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act which denies federal benefits and tax treatment to gay couples who are legally married in states that allow it.