When supporters of Arizona’s Proposition 107 talked about the proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, they stressed protecting traditional marriage from the threat of same-sex unions.
When opponents discussed it, they talked mostly about how it would cost some people health insurance benefits, including people who are straight.
As the last ballots were still being counted, it appears Arizonans are likely to be the first in the nation to reject a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, with the amendment trailing 49 percent to 51 percent.
Even though supporters refused to concede defeat on Wednesday, noting hundreds of thousands of early votes still not counted, both sides of the campaign agreed that the opponents’ ability to stay consistent in their message about the impact of the initiative on domestic partners resonated with Arizona libertarian-minded electorate.
Seven other states ushered in constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage on Tuesday, in some cases by wide margins.
That brings the total to 27 states that now have such constitutional amendments.
“Our early research clearly identified the message that would resonate with Arizona voters,” said Joe Yuhas, a political consultant who worked with Arizona Together, the opposition campaign.
The group said research showed Arizonans would oppose the amendment when they understood the effect on domestic partners.
“Arizona voters are fair; they want to be fair. . . . We just stayed disciplined to that message and the votes speak for themselves,” the group said.
Cathi Herrod, spokeswoman for the Proposition 107 campaign, Protect Marriage Arizona, said opponents obscured the real issue: gay marriage.
“The issue was about preserving the institution of marriage, and the opponents were able to make it about something else,” she said.
Critics said that opponents were disingenuous because they seemed to avoid talking about gay couples or same-sex unions at all.
None of the couples featured in Arizona Together’s commercial was same sex, but much of the funding came from gay couples and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading gay rights group.
“There was clearly a pro-homosexual agenda at work in the effort to derail a marriage amendment and they hid behind health benefits,” said Nathan Sproul, a political consultant to the Protect Marriage Arizona Campaign.
Marty Rouse, national field director of the Human Rights Campaign, said it wasn’t deception but necessity that led the campaign to focus more on straight couples.
“One can say they didn’t focus on gay couples, but in order to make sure people understood this impacted straight couples, too, you had to be clear and consistent and focus on straight couples,” he said. “Critics can say they de-gayed it, but you really need to decouple it to make sure people know this impacted all families.”
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, chairwoman of the Arizona Together campaign, said there are 112,000 unmarried couples in Arizona and 18,000 of them are same-sex couples.
She and the campaign’s treasurer Steve May, who is gay, said they needed to focus on the larger impact, not just on gay couples.
The two said proponents wanted it to be only about gay couples, despite the larger and intentional impact on all unmarried couples.
When Sinema was asked Wednesday if the vote was a victory for gay rights, she didn’t take the bait.
“This is a victory for all unmarried couples,” Sinema said.
Sproul and other supporters declined to say what they would do if the marriage amendment fails. Same-sex marriage is illegal under state law, but they want constitutional protection. He said opponents in other states are likely to focus their message the same way.