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12:46 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

Locals weigh in on topic of gay marriage...<BR>For homosexuals, it's about equal rights

The Vatican on July 31 released a document that began a campaign against gay marriage, which included the following statement:

"Legal recognition of homosexual unions… would mean not only the approval of deviant behavior… but would also obscure basic values which belong to the common inheritance of humanity."

On July 30, Bush said in a news conference, "I believe in the sanctity of marriage. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, and I think we ought to codify that one way or the other."

Local residents seem to agree that the term marriage refers to a union between a man and a woman. They also seem to agree on at least some of the rights that same-sex couples should receive.

"We all know (homosexual) couples who have been together for 25 or 50 years," Sandra Johns said. "And there's no difference between (gay and heterosexual) cultures. In being monogamous, relationships aren't really different."

Johns (who plans to make a civil union with her partner soon) called choosing a life partner "an elementary right," and compared a ban on gay marriages to the way slaves were treated – they couldn't marry unless their masters gave them permission.

Basically, she said, slaves conducted their own ceremonies, committing to one another, just without the church's blessing.

Although Johns stresses that the opinions of three or four women do not necessarily reflect those of the entire gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, she did point out, "this really is all of our community. We're all woven into this together."

Frankie Reynolds, another local woman, sees the civil union issue as a social one, centered on equal rights for all types of couples.

She said, "It's an absolute parallel with the interracial marriage issue that took place in the '50s and '60s, where socially unacceptable couples were barred from marriage. No one has the right to stand between that private relationship."

Reynolds said she respects the pope's declaration against gay marriage and doesn't expect churches to accept it, but she does want the law to accept it.

"The government is supposed to promote the rights of all its citizens, not promote popular morality or opinion," she said.

According to Father Daryl Olds, a priest at Sacred Heart Church in Prescott, "a homosexual person has the same intrinsic value of humanity (as) anyone else."

"Within the church," Olds said, "the documents and writings say homosexuals should be treated with the care of a child of God."

Although Olds was reluctant to comment on legal aspects of unions between same-sex couples, he did say he thinks if a person pays into Social Security, he or she should be able to do what they want with the money.

However, the Catholic Church sees marriage as a union between a man and a woman who, together, make up the likeness of God.

And Reynolds said that's fine. "It's religious/spiritual versus legal," she said. "I believe churches have every right to choose which kinds of marriage to accept. I don't think their choices should be taken away, but every individual should have access to civil union."

Reynolds' partner, Dana Cummins, said the lack of such access is "not constitutional," and that the government should develop a term to recognize a union between two people of the same sex.

"Marriage has not been a terribly successful word," Reynolds said. "Why would the gay and lesbian world want to copy that word?"

Reynolds and Cummins want the same rights, protections and options heterosexual couples have, including (but not limited to) filing shared taxes, Social Security survivor benefits, hospital visitation and medical decision-making rights and spousal inheritance privileges.

"We're contributing to Social Security and taxes, but we cannot reap the same benefits as other people in committed relationships," Reynolds said.

And Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, who is president of the Arizona Senate, said he also believes homosexual couples should have those rights. He said he believes the term "marriage" should be restricted to unions between a man and a woman who intend to create a family.

Although Bennett said he thinks homosexuality is immoral, he added he doesn't think it's the government's job to enforce all morality – he said God will judge everyone someday.

"I don't advocate the government trying to prohibit (civil unions)," he said.

"People have a false sense of 'better-than,'" Cummins said, adding that others seem to think, "all men are created equal, except for those we choose to discriminate against."

Reynolds said married heterosexual couples have at least "1,049 legal benefits" that homosexual couples don't.

"I'm empathetic," Bennett said. "I feel there are some issues we need to address."

He said homosexual couples should have the right to see each other in the hospital, should be able to hold property together and should have rights of survivorship.

"We can work it out without losing the underlying concept of marriage," Bennett said.

And Johns, Reynolds and Cummins said they all want what's fair.

For more information on the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community, call the Prescott Pride Center at 445-8800.