Marriage equality suit filed in Arizona

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Karen Bailey and Nelda Majors. - PHOTO: Lambda Legal

Lambda Legal on March 13 filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Arizona on behalf of seven same-sex couples and the surviving spouses of two additional same-sex couples seeking to overturn the state's anti-gay marriage ban.

Lambda senior counsel Jennifer C. Pizer said, "Every day that same-sex couples in Arizona are denied marriage, the government sends a message that their families are not worthy of equal dignity and respect."

Lambda, working with pro bono co-counsel from Perkins Coie LLP, argues in the suit that the Arizona constitutional amendment and state statutes barring same-sex couples from marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

Nelda Majors, 75, and Karen Bailey, 74, of Scottsdale, are the lead plaintiffs. They've been together for more than 55 years.

"Karen and I have been together since 1957," Majors said. "We’re a committed, loving family, have raised two amazing girls together, have seen each other through thick and thin, in sickness and in health. After five decades together, we want to celebrate and affirm our deep love for each other as other couples do, before our friends and family, through marriage."

She continued, "We’re also getting up there in years. I want to know that, should anything happen to me, there would be no question about Karen being allowed to be with me at the hospital, and vice versa. If we were married, there would be no question and we both would feel more secure.”

Pizer, in a news release, said, "Arizona’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest, brands these loving couples and their children as second-class citizens, and encourages private bias and discrimination. And because the state does not even offer a lesser status such as civil union or domestic partnership, these loving couples live every day with the uncertainty that their families and relationships lack even basic protections.”

The other plaintiffs include three couples and a widower from Phoenix, two couples and a widow from Tucson and one couple from Tempe.

The Phoenix plaintiffs are:

• David Larance, 35, and Kevin Patterson, 30, together for seven years and the parents of two girls.

• Michelle Teichner, 49, and Barbara Morrissey, 59, together for 10 years and married in New York this past July.

• Kathy and Jessica Young, 41 and 29 respectively, together for almost 10 years, married in New York this past June, and the parents of a seven-year old son.

• Patrick Ralph, 60, whose husband, Gary Hurst, died in August and would now have been 73. They married in California in 2008 just before Proposition 8 passed.

The Tucson plaintiffs are:

• Kelli and Jennifer Hoelfe Olson, 36 and 38 respectively, together for 10 years, married in Minnesota this past August and the mothers of twin 20-month-old girls.

• Kent Burbank, 45, and Vicente Talanquer, 51, together for almost 20 years, married in Iowa this past June and the fathers of two adopted boys, Daniel, 12, and Martín, 14.

• Josefina Ahumada, 68, whose wife, Helen Battiste, died in January. They were together for 23 years, pledged their commitment to each other in a religious ceremony in 1994 and got married in New Mexico in October, 2013.

The Tempe plaintiff couple is CJ and Jesús Castro-Byrd, 23 and 27 respectively, together for two years and married in Seattle, in December 2012.

“Today’s filing represents a critically important step in the ongoing work toward marriage equality in Arizona,” said Rebecca Wininger, president of Equality Arizona. “Arizona is justly celebrated for its stunning natural beauty, its artistic communities and its wonderful ethnic and geographic diversity. It is time to add celebration of the rich diversity of couples and families and to welcome fully and equally the families headed by same-sex couples to the security and stability marriage provides. Equality Arizona stands with these inspiring couples in their fight to enable lesbian and gay Arizonans to enjoy all that this beautiful state has to offer.”

Lambda said the case is Majors v. Horne.