Longform

THE KINGDOM AND THE POWERPASTOR LEO GODZICH'S QUIET CAMPAIGN AGAINST GAY RIGHTS

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She is bent nearly double as she works a ball-point pen across a thin sheaf of papers balanced in her lap. She is crafting her own speech, pulling her pen along in a frank cursive hand that drifts upward at the end of each line. Her thick glasses hover about six inches above the page as she scrawls:

I don't hate anyone what I hate is sin Homosexuality is a sin the penalty for sin is death...Homosexuality is a choice your not born with it."

Though Donna's particular viewpoint-that homosexuality is a mutable, immoral choice-has been de-emphasized and even discredited by politicians and the press, most of the people who will speak against the amendment tonight agree with her moral indignation. A few of them find homosexuals disgusting and monstrous, and some will even say so, but most of the opposition appears to be decent-enough folks who simply see no reason homosexuals deserve enhanced legal protection. Godzich and other pragmatic leaders of the anti-amendment forces frankly don't mind if their theological themes are downplayed so long as their side wins. Their strategy is to show the Phoenix City Council a core of committed citizens opposed to the amendment on moral grounds, and then offer secular, conservative rationale for not extending protection to gays.

In a January interview with New Times, even the Reverend Andy Cosentino, one of the more strident of the March 26 speakers-and a man from whom some of the other leaders of the right feel the need to distance themselves-said he'd prefer the amendment be rejected on constitutional grounds" rather than by religious argument. And Frank Meliti, who represents a coalition of 39 patriotic organizations" and can quote scripture with anyone," agrees that it's best not to play the God trump too heavily. He agrees that Bible-believing faith is great for turning out the numbers, but he's savvy enough not to believe that the city council will do anything but the politically expedient thing.

Political power, not righteousness, will win this debate, but what motivates these people to turn out for a public hearing is their personal sense of right and wrong.

For some the proposed amendment appears toothless. Its supporters say it is largely a symbolic gesture, and they point out that it does not authorize private rights of action against would-be employers or require affirmative action. They claim, therefore, that any economic arguments against it are spurious. Employers would not have to spend a dime to bring their businesses into compliance. And they say because it extends protection on the basis of sexual orientation" rather than homosexuality" it does not conflict with the state's sodomy laws.

But because people on both sides are vigorously asserting their opinions, what could have been a warm, fuzzy act of symbolism has become a difficult issue for the Phoenix City Council-and one some councilmembers wish they could sidestep.

To that end, five councilmembers and Mayor Paul Johnson have staked out a middle ground on a question that would seem to have no center: They support equal rights for gays on principle, and last December passed a compromise version of the amendment that banned discrimination against gays in city hiring. But Johnson and a majority of councilmembers say there is a need to balance that principle against the dangers of government growth in lean economic times. They say they fear the proposed amendment would negatively impact business.

Pro-amendment supporters see it another way: They say that, for Mayor Johnson and his council majority, civil liberties are fine so long as they don't screw with economic development.

I think the question is what is the appropriate role for government," Johnson says. That's what we're trying to figure out. We've already passed an ordinance that says that the city shouldn't discriminate in hiring, [and] we've already passed an ordinance that says we shouldn't discriminate in service delivery. We also changed some rules as to how we deal with people of different orientations."

Through Arizona's sodomy laws, Johnson notes, the state has determined homosexuality should be an act of illegality."

At our level, what we've said is that you ought to address the crime and not the individual," he says. The next step is one I think we just have to continue to review. Those other measures we're not backing off of." ²But listening to the opponents of the amendment, it becomes clear that this is not really a discussion about business, economic growth and the vagaries of government intrusion. This is about whether gay people are sick, perverted and an abomination before the Lord.

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Philip Martin