Gay GOP Lawmaker Assails Measures

Insurance bill seen as personal affront

Dan Nowicki, The Tribune, Front page, Vol. 39, No. 11
January 14, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

When Phoenix Republican Steve May won a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives, he looked forward to cutting taxes, shrinking government and working on education and business issues.

Instead, in his first week in office, he has become the voice of opposition to a growing stack of bills he and others say unfairly target gays and lesbians.

"I think some of the members here need to stop obsessing with homosexuality" said May, one of only two openly gay members of the Arizona Legislature and the only such Republican. "The fact is gay people are hardworking, tax-paying American citizens, and, despite the best efforts of some of the big government theocrats in my caucus, they deserve basic constitutional rights."

Socially conservative House lawmakers this year have introduced or are contemplating legislation that would:

The "extremist agenda," which is pushed by a network of anti-gay groups around the nation, is supported by Republicans in some key House posts, said Bill Macdonald, co-chairman of the Arizona Human Rights Fund, a gay and lesbian lobby organization. Gay activists are counting on the Arizona Senate and Gov. Jane Hull to block any legislation that the GOP-dominated House passes, he said.

Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, and an outspoken critic of the so-called homosexual lifestyle, said she doesn't target gays and lesbians. She noted that her House Bill 2523. the insurance-coverage measure, also makes sure the unmarried partners of heterosexual employees won't get benefits, either.

Although at least six of the Valley's largest employers offer benefits to partners of gay workers, Tucson and Pima County are the only governments to do so. Other local governments, including Tempe, have explored the possibility.

Officials from Tucson and Pima County did not return phone calls Wednesday. Johnson said those governments won't be exempted.

"I don't want to 'grandfather' (Tucson and Pima County) in – I want them to stop," said Johnson, who added that she might be willing to amend her bill to require that local elections be held on the issue instead.

May said he takes Johnson's bill as a personal affront.

"I don't know why Mrs. Johnson feels the need to attack my family," May said. "The fact is I have a family, whether she wants to recognize it or not. I love my family, and I have an obligation to take care of my family."

Johnson also was the lawmaker who first voiced concern about the child- placement issue back in late 1997, after she learned of at least one instance in which a biological parent complained about her child being placed with a lesbian foster couple.

James Hart, an assistant DES director, said homosexuals can act as foster parents so long as their lifestyle "isn't a major impact on their ability to parent."

Under state law, unwed men and women who live together cannot be foster parents due to the fact that heterosexual cohabitation is illegal in Arizona, Hart said. But a court test has proved that the anti-cohabitation law cannot be used to disqualify same-sex couples, he said.

"I think that we're going to have to put language in some bill, somewhere, wherever, where it says (state fostercare money) won't go to cohabitating adults, and that would, to me, include homosexuals," said Johnson, who now sits on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 2051, which would restrict student clubs, was scheduled to be heard Wednesday by the House Government Reform Committee. Rep. Linda Gray, R- Glendale, and the bill's sponsor said she asked that the bill be held so that she could research the legal ramifications of a similar Utah law.

May said he personally informed Gray that her bill, as was Utah's law, is a flagrant violation of the federal Equal Access Act.

Johnson and Gray said they believe student gay clubs recruit teenagers who are confused or ambiguous about their sexuality into the homosexual camp. Gray said there are at least seven such clubs at Valley schools.

"Live and let live, but don't try to push that on young kids who are very, very vulnerable," Johnson said.

May said that theory is utter nonsense. "They've been trying to recruit me to be a heterosexual my whole life," he said.