Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Initiative politics

Shooter wrote to me today:

:: Supposedly there is a group trying to put an anti-gay-marraige amendment into the constitution. They are setting up a referendum for '06. I would like for this to fail, but considering the margins by which it has passed elsewhere I think it will almost certainly go through here in Arizona.

To counter this, I think that we should put together a civil unions initiative. Basically, we should have a vote to legalize same-sex civil union (to be defined as all the benefits and responsibilities as usual marraige, but with a different name) at the same time as the vote on outlawing gay marraige.

(1) Do you think this is a good idea?
(2) Is this something that we can do? I don't know much about the legalities and practicalities of voter intiatives.
(3) Do you think that the Arizona voters would approve such a measure?

Thanks for your thoughts. ::

Thanks for the subject of this post, Shooter.

I think that it would be a tragedy if such antediluvian clap-trap were encoded in our Constitution. Unfortunately, I think that it would pass quite handily. I also suspect that putting a civil union measure on the ballot opposite it would be asking for it to be defeated and may even drive turnout of social conservatives even higher.

Few people realize that all incorporated areas of Arizona have reserved to their voters the right to the initiative by the State's Constitution. This means that Pima County or Tucson could have an initiative placed on the ballot, generally by petition of 15% of the electorate of that jurisdiction in the last election. I think that a civil unions initiative would almost certainly pass if the electorate were only the residents of Pima County or Tucson. The relevant issue is what that aim of the law would be. Tucson already has a domestic partner registry, allowing visitation rights in any Tucson hospital and access to any city facilities as if the partner were a spouse. Could the city or county make further inroads that are likely to stand up to legal challenge? Are there measures domestic partners want which the Tucson City Counsil or Pima Board of Supervisors would be loathe to grant? It could be worth investigating.

In either case, statewide initiative or local, the organizational challenges are many. A very large number of registered voters must be canvassed requiring either lots of money for paid canvassers or lots of volunteers and good organization. Beyond that one has the challenge of explaining to voters what the objective of the initiative is, which requires a considerable public information and advertising campaign. One either needs very committed large dollar donors, or a dedicated and large pool of enthusiastic supporters willing to commit considerable time and what money they can to the uncertain cause of passing a law unpopular enough that it cannot be passed by the relevant representative body. It is obviously an uphill battle either way.

Unless the goal is a much more comprehensive domestic partnership law touching upon all the state rights of property inheritance, relationship dissolution, parental rights, and other appurtenances of marriage, that getting activist excited about it would be difficult. Reaching those state rights would likely not be possible with a city ordinance or county regulation, and those which can be granted, such as humanitarian issues like hospital visitation could likely be achieved even in our very conservative legislature with the right approach and sponsorship. Thus I would have to conclude that a statewide initiative would fail, and could possibly be counter-productive to defeating a DOMA-type anti-gay marriage initiative. The sort of local initiative that would be politically feasible seems to me easier to achieve through representative government, and stands a good chance to be simply duplicative of rights same-sex couples already enjoy.

That said, I do however think that there is much merit in the idea of placing one or more reformist/progressive initiatives on the Arizona ballot in 2006. They can play an important role in turning out our base and strongly presenting key issues to the electorate. Electoral integrity reform (paper trails, open source, non-partisan oversight, etc), electoral reform (proportional representation, IRV, election day registration), and economic issues (expanding SCHIP to all AZ children, increasing minimum wage) could all be interesting and useful initiatives to present to voters, and almost certainly none of them would stand a chance in hell of passing the legislature and could galvanize liberal voters.


At 3:36 PM, Blogger Jack Benway said...

I'm of the belief that the government has no business addressing marriage at all, be it gay, straight, polygamous, or anything else. I really don't understand why anyone wants or needs their relationship recognized by the government. Regardless, a definition of marriage has no place in the Constitution, state or federal.

The benefits that a domestic partnership law would extend to couples, gay or straight, are largely contractual. Since it is a legitimate function of government to enforce contracts, a domestic partnership law extending the contractual benefits of marriage to couples who either do not wish to be married or cannot be married makes good sense.

I like your idea. It's a good use of the citizens initiative process. I don't think the idea of limiting it to just Pima County will fly since the laws it affects are state laws. Putting it to a vote statewide does make sense, and the outcome will show whether the opposition to gay marriage stems from the desire to protect marriage as a religions institution, or from a blanket dislike of gays (married or not).

At 4:42 PM, Blogger Arthur said...

I've created an Arizona Progressive Initiatives Blog:
Check out Initiative #1.


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