PHOENIX — A national gay-rights organization announced Thursday the filing
of a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven couples and two surviving spouses
challenging Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage.
The lawsuit, filed by Lambda Legal, claims banning gay marriage violates the
couples’ rights to equal protection and due process under the U.S. Constitution.
“It’s wrong that I can’t marry the one person I cherish most in this world,
even after 56 years of love and commitment,” said Nelda Majors, who is a lead
plaintiff with her partner, Karen Bailey.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, state Department of Health Services
director Will Humble and Maricopa County Superior Court clerk Michael Jeanes are
named as defendants in the complaint.
“Our clients deserve to be treated equally by the government for which they
pay taxes. They deserve the same basic freedoms that everyone in this state
enjoys, including the freedom to marry,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel
for Lambda Legal.
In a statement released by his office, Horne said “as Attorney General it is
my duty to defend Arizona laws.”
Lawmakers approved a state law barring same-sex marriages in 1996. Seven years
later, an Arizona appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the law. Voters
in 2008 amended the Arizona Constitution to include the ban.
The lawsuit, which court records show was filed Wednesday in Phoenix, is also
requesting that Arizona legally recognize the marriages of couples who wed in
other states, Pizer said.
“Without legal recognition of their marriages, they are left vulnerable _
scrambling to cobble together often at considerable expense a big pile of
documents. And even with all those documents, it still doesn’t give them the
legal protection and security their families need, especially in times of
crisis,” Pizer said.
Barb Morrissey said she had to carry a packet of legal documents every time she
visited her wife, Mish Teichner, in the hospital. Teichner underwent a kidney
transplant in January. Morrissey said she has had hospital employees bar her
from seeing Teichner. Morrissey said another employee told her, “I’ll try to
sneak you in.”
“I felt disrespected and stressed that I was treated this way,” Morrissey
Patrick Ralph, a plaintiff whose husband died in Phoenix in August, said he
cannot get a state death certificate listing him as a spouse. He and Gary Hurst
married in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2008, before Proposition 8 took effect.
Besides wanting an official acknowledgement of his marriage on the death
certificate, Ralph said the document could help in figuring out if he is
entitled to any survivor’s benefits. That desire led him to reach out to Lambda
five months ago.
“Marriage is the one thing that can fix all those problems,” Ralph said.
“(Gary) would wish I didn’t have to go through this to get what is rightfully
ours in the first place.”
The lawsuit is separate from a class-action lawsuit filed by four same-sex
couples in January. Phoenix attorney Shawn Aiken, who filed the lawsuit,
initially filed it against Horne and Gov. Jan Brewer as well as three Arizona
county clerks. He has since dropped Horne and Brewer at the request of Assistant
Attorney General Kathleen Sweeney and to avoid a prolonged series of legal
motions. He plans to file a motion next month, asking the judge in the case to
make a decision about the lawsuit without waiting for a trial.
Aiken and his team have expressed support for Lambda Legal’s suit, but both
said there are no plans to join the two filings.
“My attitude is to the extent that if we both succeed, great. If they succeed
where we fail, that’s good too,” Aiken said.
According to Pizer, the couples requested Lambda Legal’s help several months
ago. The lawsuit is part of an overall, coordinated effort to get the ban struck
down, she added.
She anticipates the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked again in the next couple
of years to recognize same-sex marriage.
“None of us can predict which case will be before the court,” Pizer said.
Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ttangAP