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Former Arizona lawmaker says time is right for marriage equality

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WASHINGTON – Former Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe joined representatives of business, church and civil-rights groups Thursday to file briefs supporting same-sex marriage in two upcoming Supreme Court cases on the issue.

Kolbe, who married his partner in Washington, D.C., said civil unions are no longer sufficient and that now is the time for marriage equality for gay couples across the country.

“There was a time when gay marriage seemed like just a vision so far in the future that it didn’t even seem possible,” Kolbe said. “Times have changed, and I think now we recognize that civil unions doesn’t do it. We need to have more. We need to have the full equality.”

He was one of nine speakers at a news conference intended to show the breadth of same-sex marriage supporters. Each of the speakers had signed on to various friend-of-the-court briefs.

Thursday was the deadline to file briefs in the high court’s consideration next month of California’s Proposition 8, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Friday is the deadline for briefs in the court’s consideration of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that also says marriage is between a man and a woman.

The court will hear the Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case, on March 26; U.S. v. Windsor, the DOMA case, will be heard on March 27.

The two cases have already attracted dozens of briefs, both from supporters and from opponents as varied as a group of Republican senators and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Kolbe is one of more than 100 Republicans who signed one of the briefs supporting gay marriage, according to the Respect for Marriage Coalition, which hosted the news conference. The Republicans include former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Hewlett-Packard President and CEO Meg Whitman and Beth Myers, former manager for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Other groups at the news conference included Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, former members of the military, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, among others.

Kolbe said the ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act could affect an Arizona case currently “conferenced” by the court – meaning the justices have not decided if they will hear it or not. The case, Brewer v. Diaz, challenges the state’s law that denies health benefits to domestic partners of state employees.

Kolbe said if the court strikes down DOMA, it would be difficult for states to find legal ground for treating same-sex and heterosexual couples differently. Once the court rules, he said, he expects Arizona will “come along very quickly on this issue.”

“It’s evolving in Arizona the same way it’s evolving everywhere else,” Kolbe said.

But Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod said there is no telling how the DOMA case would affect the state or the Diaz case until after a ruling is handed down. The center supports traditional marriage.

“Until we have the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, offering any opinion on a potential impact to Arizona is pure conjecture,” she wrote in an email.

Kolbe compared current laws that ban gay marriage to past laws that did not let people of different races marry. Those laws are often looked back on in disbelief, he said, and he thinks someday there will be a similar response to the current restrictions on same-sex marriage.

“I think we recognize that now is the time to strike and to make this change,” Kolbe said.