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Same-sex marriage initiative officially ends campaign

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The Equal Marriage Arizona initiative officially announced its campaign was dead on its Facebook page, ending an effort that had been dormant for almost a month.

The campaign to amend the Arizona Constitution to allow same-sex marriage was short lived.  Pushed by the political right, it began to unravel as it became clear that national and state-wide gay rights groups would not work with political consultant Tim Mooney.  He ran a campaign against gay marriage in Utah in 2004 and was working behind the scenes on both the Equal Marriage Arizona campaign and a same-sex marriage campaign in Florida.

Groups also said they preferred to wait until 2016 to run a campaign, citing the rapidly changing public opinion trend in their favor and the current tight polling numbers in Arizona.  They said a loss at the polls would set the movement in Arizona back years.

“While the initiative received broad support among those in the LGBT community, as well as from individuals across the political spectrum, several state and national groups working for marriage equality advised that they would not support the effort mostly out of concerns about timing,” the Equal Marriage Arizona statement said.

Erin Ogletree Simpson, the campaign co-chair, said when she first started meeting with people in southern Arizona, support for the initiative was unanimous.  Even Democrats understood the tactic they were trying to take by making a case for gay marriage to those on the right of the political spectrum that may be swayed.

But she said the effort never fully took off because established LGBT groups felt their toes were getting stepped on.

“Truly, all of this has come about because of the actions of the [LGBT] groups north of the Gila River that were not happy about anyone else controlling the message, anyone else having a say in how equal marriage might come to Arizona. It’s something they very much feel is their domain, and so they let those [other LGBT] groups know that they didn’t want them to support us,” she said.

The struggle to maintain allies and gain support was highlighted recently when Equal Marriage Arizona’s endorsement from Wingspan, Southern Arizona’s LGBT center, was removed from the Equal Marriage Arizona website. The campaign had been using the endorsement for the past few months but Carol Grimsby, executive director of Wingspan, said her organization never offered a formal endorsement of the initiative.

Grimsby said Wingspan had invited the Equal Marriage Arizona initiative to host two signature-gathering events at their center, and somebody on the staff must have given the campaign the OK without running it by her first.

Simpson said Wingspan staffers had vetted and approved the endorsement language used on their website, but when the early supporters of the initiative started getting pressure from Phoenix LGBT groups to withdraw their support, Wingspan asked the campaign to take down the endorsement.

“We were given authority to put that on our website. If there’s an issue of whether the board was involved in that decision and needed to be involved in that decision, that’s an issue for the board… We clearly had their authority to put that on,” Simpson said.

Wingspan had also asked Simpson to speak at their upcoming fundraising banquet.  But after a meeting with their board on Tuesday, they rescinded their invite, Simpson said.

Gay rights groups said they were blindsided and questioned the logic of announcing a campaign for equal marriage without consulting the movement’s leaders first.

But Simpson said even if she had gone to the traditional equal marriage supporters before launching her campaign, she doesn’t think they would have been willing to cede their ground to a Republican.

“It would not have made any difference to go to them beforehand,” she said.

Though the effort is dead, it did some good by provided the kick in the pants some LGBT groups needed to commit to an equal marriage campaign in 2016, she said, adding, “If I’m not silenced, I’m happy to work with them [in 2016].”


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