Openly out Democratic Arizona State
Senators Paula Aboud and Ken Cheuvront might have been feeling
cautiously optimistic on Wednesday night after Senate members had
voted down sending a constitutional amendment baning gay marriage in
Arizona to the voters who had rejected a similar measure in 2006.
Their lingering concerns, however, would soon prove to be justified
on Friday as the Senate approached the measure again.
Aboud had been strategizing how to
defeat the constitutional ban for the last four months, and on
Wednesday she was watching those plans unfold. The measure, which
required 16 votes for passage, was defeated by a 14 to 11 vote.
The key to the defeat was a missing
voter: Republican Senator Karen Johnson. While Johnson maintains she
would never purposefully miss such an important vote, theories that
she had worked with Aboud and Cheuvront quickly appeared on the
Frantic senate colleagues
unsuccessfully called Johnson's mobile phone, and even arranged for a
visit to her home in hopes of escorting her in for her vote. “We
tried to get ahold of her,” Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor
(Republican) told AZcentral.com. “I'm aware there were some
During the vote Senator Linda Gray
(Republican) voted against the measure and then moved to have it
reconsidered at a later date.
Aboud and Cheuvront had won for now,
but the war waged on.
On Friday, the last day of the
legislative session, Republican leadership made certain Karen Johnson
was present to vote. Aboud and Cheuvront would have only one option:
Run down the clock, as the gay marriage amendment was the last item
on the schedule.
But Republicans were having none of it.
From the start of the session, they spoke quickly and moved swiftly
in an effort to reach the amendment. In less than 20 minutes they
whipped through five bills, with only two left to reach the
On the sixth bill, which proposed an
excise tax option for certain counties, Cheuvront asked to be
recognized. When called upon by presiding Senator Jack Harper
(Republican) he would say, “It doesn't look like my light is
working. Did you see me up there?” in reference to the system of
lights used to recognize Senators. “This light is working here,”
Harper responded. “I don't know if we need to get someone to fix
my light, but I would like to have my own light working,” Cheuvront
said. “It makes me feel more secure and more comfortable.”
Later, Aboud would comment that her light was behaving abnormally as
It was run-out-the-clock time as Aboud
played devil's advocate to Cheuvront's theoretical questions on the
excise tax. During the debate, Harper interrupted Aboud in mid
sentence, saying: “One second, I clicked on the wrong thing. I
clicked on the 'clear mikes'. If you would like to speak go ahead
and push your buttons again.”
But then Harper did not return to
Aboud, instead opting to recognize Republican Majority Leader Senator
Thayer Verschoor, shutting off all other microphones. Verschoor
moved to have all bills retained on the calendar – a move designed
to cut off all debate.
Harper quickly placed the motion to a
vote and it easily passed.
Senator Meg Burton-Cahill (Democrat),
whose microphone was off, objected to being overlooked, “I had my
light on for some time now!”
Pandemonium ensued when Harper insisted
the motion had passed. Democratic Senators Aboud, Cheuvront, Garcia
and Burton-Cahill rushed down the aisle to reason with Harper and
Senate President Timothy Bee.
Verschoor walked about the room,
clearly elated with the chaos he had created.
Aboud and Cheuvront – feeling the
sting of being whipped by Republican dirty tricks – appeared
visibly despondent. With debate cut off and Johnson present, there
was nothing stopping the ban from passing.
Later in the session, Aboud would say,
“Let me explain how I feel about voting in this body where the
rules have been broken and the leadership of this body that is
running this body supported that decision. I don't mean the Senate
President, I mean the majority leader.”
On the Arizona Senate's website, video
of the session shows Verschoor mulling about the floor before the gay
marriage debate. He stops to speak to two senators discussing the
measure and says, “All we need is 16 and... We can do anything –
we can change the rule, it doesn't make any difference.” The
context surrounding his remarks remains unclear.
As SCR1042, which defines marriage in
Arizona as only between one man and one woman, came up for a vote,
all Aboud and Cheuvront could do was voice their opposition to the
“[Many people] think this is so
important that we need to have a vote on it to help either Senator
McCain run for president or for the Conservative voters to get out
the vote. I think most people realize that there will be gay
marriage in American at some point. It's just a matter of time,”
Aboud delivered a more personal plea:
“My partner of over eight years says, 'Two people can get drunk,
know each other for two hours, go to Las Vegas and get married.' And
they have more rights than me -- a State Senator -- and my partner of
eight years... Do I scare you? Are you afraid of the love that I
share with another person? What is it? What is it that I'm doing to
anybody here? Absolutely nothing. What am I doing to your children?
Nothing. Nothing. What I'm doing is called living my life. Get
your laws off my back.”
“My relationship will change the
family. Is your relationship with your family so fragile that you're
threatened by me? Is your relationship with your opposite-sex
partner so fragile that who I love threatens you? Or you? Or
you?” she asked, pointing to various Senators.
“And where does this fear come from?
This fear of people that love one another. You're afraid of judges?
I don't believe you're afraid of judges, I think you're afraid of me
and my relationship. You're afraid of me. Are you afraid of me? I
don't think so. This is about putting your laws on my back. Just
like you take these rules and put them on my back. To serve
Then, nearing tears, looking around the
room, she added, “I've cleared the room. Mr. President, I only see
two red numbers up there,” referring to televised votes against the
Nearly four hours after its start,
about 10PM, the session ended. The measure had passed with the
necessary 16 votes.
Speaking to OUTTAKEonline.com CEO
Charlotte Robinson, Aboud would say, “We were betrayed... one
Republican senator betrayed us and failed to be absent on the final
day of the session... It was a very hard day.”
[Charlotte Robinson is an Emmy-award
winning producer/director who is currently speaking to gay marriage
activists and politicians for an upcoming film on the gay marriage
debate. You can find out more about her and her work at