Grooms on the Cupcake

With Terry Goddard and Janet Napolitano around, you'd think gay marriage would have a chance in Arizona. Think again.

If Governor Janet Napolitano isn't a lesbian, I'll eat your hat. She is a walking, one-woman LPGA tour all by herself.

It may be the thing I like best about her.

I've known Attorney General Terry Goddard almost from the first moment he entered politics, and I've never known a time when his sexual identity wasn't the object of idle gossip among the ladies who lunch.

Attorney Michael Ryan on  gay marriage: "I think it's coming because it's the right thing."
Jackie Mercandetti
Attorney Michael Ryan on gay marriage: "I think it's coming because it's the right thing."

As newly elected leaders in a traditionally conservative state, the two of them have put a face on dignity in Arizona.

Governor Napolitano has appeared on the cover of local gay publications holding forth in dewy-eyed interviews. Goddard, the state's top prosecutor, was honorary co-chair of the Arizona Human Rights Fund awards dinner this past June. He shared the limelight at the gay ball with his wife.

So you would think that queer pride would have a shot in Arizona today.

You would be mistaken.

Attorney General Goddard led the legal attack last week in the Arizona Court of Appeals on a gay couple's effort to secure a marriage license. Governor Napolitano suffered from the silence of the dead.

While mute on the gay lawsuit, Governor Napolitano did find her voice, repeatedly, on the intricacies of the gas pipeline break in southern Arizona. Last week she was all over the fumbling energy company in the state's media.

Is there a single reader who believes that Governor Janet knows more about pipelines than she knows about Martina Navratilova?

The brawl that Governor Napolitano ducked is a cage fight, but the issues are simple.

Gay couples deserve state-sanctioned marriages. They own the same right to raise families as the rest of us. Queer estates must be protected by the strongest contract a court recognizes, the marriage contract.

And what the hell is the point of having a couple of stiffs like Goddard and Napolitano in office if the only contract they recognize is the contract with America?

I guess I am supposed to be happy, to consider it progress, that in Arizona we're not stapling faggots to fence posts like they did in Wyoming; well, I expect better, and with leadership, I think the people of this state will accept more.

We elected Goddard and Napolitano, after all, and they are icons in the gay community.

Yet neither would stand up for the most fundamental grievance, that most basic right, the desire of gay couples to have sanctioned relationships protected by law. Goddard's office, in fact, led the legal assault against the couple that sought the court's relief.

On July 1, Harold Donald Standhardt and Tod Alan Keltner, 34 and 36, applied for a marriage license. The Maricopa County Clerk of the Superior Court refused to process the paperwork.

Standhardt and Keltner could have gone away quietly. Most gay couples can find ways to formalize their relationships, and if they are prepared to weather a blizzard of contracts and forms, they can erect some protection for property. The Valley is also full of stories of gay couples who have found their way to parenthood.

But Standhardt and Keltner were not interested in sneaking around, nor did they feel like they should endure a cat's cradle of legal paperwork to protect what the rest of us secure with a simple license.

Instead, they retained the services of attorney Michael S. Ryan, who promptly sought the protection of Arizona's constitution as well as America's.

Ryan, part of that gaggle of dirty-shirt lawyers in the Luhrs building that seem to single-handedly represent an unruly wing of the bar, believes in causes. And with gay marriage, Ryan believes the civil rights question is reaching critical mass. That, in fact, polling shows, the general public is much more tolerant than the politicians.

"I think it's coming because it's the right thing," explains Ryan.

Despite what you may believe, the constitution, the laws that flow from it, and the definition of marriage are constantly shifting. Marriage between races was legally forbidden in this country until 1967.

In a response to Attorney General Goddard's rhetorical citings, Ryan reminded the court that the law once held that "the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage . . . thus a married woman could not enter into a binding contract without her husband's permission . . . men could beat their wives under the related chastisement doctrine . . . men could also rape their wives . . . married women were not even allowed to use their maiden names."

In denying a woman the right to become an attorney, a robed justice had once opined, "The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign office of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator."

(If Goddard's mouthpiece in the appellate court arguments, assistant attorney general Kathleen P. Sweeney, exhibited goose bumps at reading these words, it was not reflected in the record.)

To inspect the evolution of marital law is to understand that the courthouse is the perfect venue to address the stupidity of the craven rabble who codify the confections of matrimonial fantasies in statutes.

And yet Michael Ryan's petition to the bench attracted unusual opposition. The Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief seeking to have the gay couple's suit dismissed.

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