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Confessions of a Gay, Right-Wing Mormon

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But some legislators think May has taken that maxim too far--that in his zeal to get along, he's selling out his own beliefs.

Glendale Representative Kathi Foster calls May the "little puppet." As a pro-life Democrat, Foster knows what it's like to be at odds with her own party caucus. But she's disappointed when May casts the deciding vote to pass one of Karen Johnson's pet bills.

And she tells him so. Foster recalls that on one occasion, May replied, "'I'm supporting my caucus.'"

"I simply replied back, 'Well, it would be nice if that door swung both ways.'"

She adds, "People were just kind of aghast that he was folding on issues that pertained to people who had been so hurtful to him. But then again, maybe that shows he's a better person--I don't know."

Steve May understands a world without absolutes. He has long been torn by seemingly opposing forces. He grew up as a closeted gay in a strict family of Mormons, whose tenets strictly forbid homosexuality. He attended a conservative private college, then entered the military at the dawn of the "don't ask, don't tell" era.

The contradictions persist. May does not attend church, but has not been excommunicated, and still considers himself a Mormon by heritage. He works side-by-side with his father at the family business, an herbal tea company, even though his parents think his homosexuality is a sin. And at home, May lives with a man, but when mom and dad come over, he hides the coffee--caffeine is a Mormon taboo.

"We have one bedroom and you're worried about a coffee maker?" his partner, Paul Quinn, teases.

At the Legislature, May goes out drinking with the moderates, but often votes with the "wacks," the latest nickname for the body's far-right conservatives.

Yet May has started speaking out on gay issues. He was the only gay Arizona politician to ride in the April 17 gay pride parade in Phoenix. On the House floor, he works stealthily but effectively, using the rules of parliamentary procedure--which he's studied since high school--to tweak bills and assure homosexuals fair treatment under the law.

When Karen Johnson tried to slip a provision into this year's budget that would have deprived cohabiting (heterosexual or homosexual) unmarried foster parents of their $350 monthly stipend from the state, May called in the television cameras. The provision was stripped.

His older, wiser colleagues tell him to keep his freshman mouth shut, May says.

"What?" he asks. "And let the state go to hell?"

Among the 57 bills Steve May has sponsored this session, not one could be considered "gay" legislation. May is more concerned with HMO reform and incremental tax financing.

But when he saw Karen Johnson's domestic-partners measure, House Bill 2524, he felt he had to do something. The bill was designed to stop Pima County and the City of Tucson, which currently offer domestic-partner benefits, from doing so. Arizona law does not require public entities to offer such benefits, but does not prohibit them from doing so.

"I have never once pushed for domestic-partner benefits," May says. "All I did was stand up in opposition to a bill that would have taken away those benefits from people who already have them."

May thought he had quietly killed HB2524. He'd cut a deal with Speaker Jeff Groscost under which the bill was assigned to the House Banking and Insurance Committee, which May vice-chairs. The panel rejected the bill.

But the next day, the bill reemerged in the House Government Reform Committee. When May learned of its resurrection and reassignment, he knew he'd been bamboozled. He went to Jimmy Jayne, the speaker's chief of staff.

"I said, 'The Speaker made a commitment that he would assign the bill to my committee and I would be able to kill it quietly,'" May recalls.

"He said, 'Well, he did that, didn't he?'"
"I said, 'Jimmy, all right, you got me on this one.'"
So May went to the Government Reform Committee hearing on HB2524. He knew the measure would pass in committee, but he had new plans to keep the bill from ever reaching the House floor. He hadn't intended to say a word. Then Johnson opened her mouth.

"In the homosexual relationship, research affirms that the average length of a relationship involving homosexual partners is 2.7 years," Johnson told the committee. "The life expectancy for a homosexual male with AIDS is 39 years of age and without AIDS it's 42.

". . . HIV and AIDS is only one of the many infections to which homosexuals are significantly prone," she continued. "Since their kind of sex involves contact with human feces, such behavior carries with it a high risk of contracting such diseases as Hepatitis A, carposis sarcoma, anal carcinoma and other rectal infections involving gonorrhea, herpes simplex, syphilis, as well as a group of rare intestinal diseases that have been grouped together under the title gay bowel syndrome.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.