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.

That's right, the ACLU threw in with the know-nothings.

The paperwork speaks for itself, and it is a disgrace.

I used to office down the hall from the ACLU. The director was a friend of mine. I took his money in poker games. But no one bluffed him, not in the game, not in the courtroom.

The new head of Arizona's chapter of the ACLU, Eleanor Eisenberg, is spineless. When President George W. Bush visited Phoenix, she was arrested. Understand, she hadn't organized and led any civil disobedience. She'd just gotten in the way and didn't move quickly enough to suit the cops. Nonetheless, I called her up to interview her. The police ought to leave protesters like her alone. The woman refused to come to the phone. I was informed that her attorney had told her not to talk to the press.

I like that. The head screamer at the ACLU allows herself to be muzzled by her own lawyer after a protest bust.

According to attorney Ryan, significant elements of the liberal community fear that if his suit is successful, Arizona will follow Hawaii and Alaska and pass constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages. Other fellow travelers are simply intimidated.

"What I've learned," says Ryan, "is that there is a real fear of the conservative right wing, and not just over philosophy. There is a palpable fear that they will somehow harm people. Their [conservative] passion arouses a certain element. It makes people fearful [that] they can't be themselves."

What the ACLU and Terry Goddard and Janet Napolitano and the other nattering ninnies ought to grasp is that a same-sex marriage license in Arizona might be nothing more than a matter of leadership. Remember, the voters of this state have twice passed measures to decriminalize pot.

Goddard and Napolitano blew an opportunity.

"That would have been quite a splash if Goddard had filed a response, You know, they're right. Grant the relief,'" Ryan says, laughing.

Of course, that isn't what the attorney general did.

Instead, Goddard's office vigorously opposed Ryan's special action, and the attorney general made a point of telling the morning newspaper how safe family values were in his hands.

During oral arguments last week, and in page after dreary page, Goddard's office alleged that current laws prevent same-sex marriage and that in the entire universe only homosexuals and lesbians were precluded from marrying the person they love.

Goddard's staff claimed these laws protect the institution of the family.

There is no explanation of how two men with a marriage license threaten anyone's family; it's just a given.

Frankly, the state's position is so brain-dead that it degenerates into pure argumentativeness. How many grooms can dance upon the head of a cupcake? Tradition tells us, only one.

Attorney General Goddard goes on at length to make the tortuous argument that the current laws are meant to foster procreation: "The statutes satisfy these standards because they are rationally related to furthering the legitimate government interests of encouraging procreation . . ."

What the hell does that mean?

Would Goddard grant a license to Melissa Etheridge, an avowed lesbian in a committed lesbian relationship, because she chose to become artificially inseminated by -- of all possible choices -- David Crosby, and thus was procreating?

"The legitimate government interests of encouraging procreation"?

In Goddard's own marriage, he has not procreated.

Terry Goddard and his wife adopted a baby.

Which is precisely what Harold Donald Standhardt, a single man, and Tod Alan Keltner, a single man, want to do.

And God bless them.

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