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“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
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Posts for April, 2013

My Brush With Celebrities

Jim Burroway

April 4th, 2013

That’s Kathy Snowden and Deborah Grier, the proprieters of Finders Keepers Antiques and Collectables, my favorite antique store in Bisbee, Arizona, which is saying something because tiny “Keep Bisbee Freeky” has quite a selection of antique stores and junk shops to chose from. Kathy and Deboray, who have been together for twenty years, are some of the nicest people you will ever know, and I was thrilled to see their photo illustrating this story in USA Today about how Bisbee wound up becoming a center of statewide and national attention in the battle for marriage equality:

Grant Sergot, 63, who is heterosexual and has lived in Bisbee for nearly 40 years where he owns Óptimo Hatworks, described Bisbee as a “well-informed and educated community.”

“Very independent-type people live here, free-thinking people,” he said.

Kathy Sowden, who has been with her partner for 20 years and owns Finders Keepers Antiques and Collectibles, said a civil ordinance seemed natural for Bisbee.

“We’re a border town,” she said. “We thrive on diversity. It’s not surprising at all that little Bisbee is the first to do this.”

(By the way, I also have two custom-fit hats from Óptimo Hatworks.)

The town’s Civil Unions ordinace was staunchly opposed by several of the town’s churches, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, and the Center for Arizona Policy (a Focus On the Family state policy council). But as Mark Hundley told the packed council chambers Tuesday, in answer to remarks made by some of those religious opponents, “I am not an abomination. It’s strange to have to say that.” The Bisbee council agreed, and voted 5-2 to make civil unions legal.

You can read more about what I love about Bisbee here. And maybe next time I’m in Bisbee, maybe I’ll finally break down and get that Roseville vase I’ve had my eye on at Kathy and Deborah’s shop.

Bisbee AZ Authorizes Civil Unions

Jim Burroway

April 3rd, 2013

The tiny southeastern Arizona town of Bisbee — pop: 6,000; unofficial motto: “Keep Bisbee freaky;” located just four miles from the Mexican border —  has adopted an ordinance to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples. The terms of the city’s civil unions are extremely limited: while it covers joint property ownership, property inheritance, guardianship and adoption rights, it only applies within the city’s boundaries, which effectively makes it no different from a number of domestic partnership registries in Tucson, Phoenix, and other Arizona cities. Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon acknowledged that in the end, the ordinance’s impact will apply only to things within the city’s control, such as personnel policies.

But it’s the term “civil unions” which has caught Arizona’s conservatives off guard. Who knew that they would suddenly become all riled up over the sanctity of civil unions?

And just hours before the meeting, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, at the urging of state lawmakers from Cochise County, sent a letter warning Bisbee that his office would take legal action against the city if council members approved the ordinance.

Horne said Bisbee does not have the authority to offer civil unions and that “the impact goes beyond (city) boundaries.”

MacKinnon, referring to Horne and the state, said: “They chose to interpret it broadly. We believe this was a desire to make a political statement.”

MacKinnon said he was proud to bring the issue to the council. “I think for too long many of us have been silent while we have witnessed discrimination against some in this community,” he said. “It’s time to stand up.”

In fact, state law does not address domestic partnerships or civil unions. Arizona voters in 2006 refused to adopt Prop 108, a constitutional amendment which would have banned domestic partnerships and civil unions in addition to same-sex marriage. In 2008, conservatives placed Prop 102 on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage only. That proposition passed by a margin of 56% to 44%.

However, there is a possibility that Bisbee’s civil unions ordinance may be successfully challenged in court. The ordinance addresses, for example adoption rights, which are regulated by state law. These clauses are moot in the city of Bisbee since there are no adoption agencies in the city. But even if there were, those agencies would be regulate by state law, which cannot be superseded by a city ordinance. Horne has promised to challenge the law in court. The Center for Arizona Policy, an official state policy council for Focus On the Family, has also promised to sue, and threatened additionally to bankrupt the city.

And you can safely bet your life savings that the neanderthal state legislature will quickly act to patch any other legal holes they can find to ban local governments from recognizing same-sex relationships altogether. After all, it’s one of two things our state government loves to do more than anything else in the world. The other is panicking over made-up stores about kidnapping, headless corpses and other wild imaginings from the anti-immigration crowd.

In 2010, Bisbee was named the gay-friendliest city in Arizona. You can read more about  Bisbee here.

Tiny Bisbee, AZ To Issue Civil Union Certificates

Jim Burroway

March 21st, 2013

Gay-friendly Bisbee, Arizona

The city council of Bisbee, Az, a rough old mining town south of Tombstone that has since re-emerged as a vital arts community (pop. 6.000), has given its initial, unanimous approval to an ordinance that would allow any two unrelated, unmarried adults of any sexual orientation to enter into a civil union. According to the Sierra Vista Herald:

The City of Bisbee supports the right of every person to enter into a lasting and meaningful relationship with the partner of his or her choice, regardless of the particular sexual orientation of that partnership.”

City Council members reviewed the language of an ordinance Tuesday night that opposes discriminatory practices against lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people and offers them the same rights as any married couple.

The ordinance continues: “The City of Bisbee will exercise its inherent powers of self-government. as established under its city charter, to attempt to lessen the impact of these discriminatory practices upon all citizens within the (city limits)

The City Clerk’s Office would issue civil union certificates for $25, and would be given the rights of a married couple within the city of Bisbee. Because of the geographic specificity, this appears to be similar to domestic parnership registries which are in place in other cities like Tucson and Phoenix. But by calling this arrangement a Civil Union, the city council is sending a strong message about the city’s commitment to marriage equality. Arizona’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriage, but is silent on domestic partnerships or civil unions.

In 2010, Bisbee was named the gay-friendliest city in Arizona, and it remains one of my favorite weekend getaway destinations. You can read more about why I love Bisbee here.

The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, August 30

Jim Burroway

August 30th, 2011

Gay-friendly Bisbee, Arizona

TODAY’S AGENDA:
I don’t have anything on the calendar for today. Instead, I’ll point you to a story that appeared in Tucson’s local paper last Friday. The Arizona Daily Star reported on the local angle of the William’s Institute’s latest study of the gayest cities in America, as measured according to the number of same-sex households counted by the U.S. Census in 2010. The top city in Arizona by that measure was not Phoenix, nor Tucson nor Flagstaff, nor Sedona. The gay friendliest city in Arizona is tiny Bisbee (pop. 6,000). According to the Williams Institute, 20.9 for every 1,000 households there was made up of same-sex couples:

So why Bisbee?

“It’s kind of a little bit of a liberal spot in a conservative oasis,” said Kathy Sowden. She and her partner, Deborah Grier, own and operate Finders Keepers, an antique and jewelry shop on Main Street in Old Bisbee.

How liberal?

“I’m always surprised to see a Republican bumper sticker here,” she said.

The couple, who moved to Arizona six years ago from California, also said there’s a kind of live-and-let-live attitude in the community. Sowden said part of that is strictly economics.

“It’s a lot of people trying to make a living in a small tourist town,” she said. “A lot of times the mutual goal kind of erases any cultural differences, especially now with the economy the way it is.”

Old Post Office and Library in Downtown Bisbee

Bisbee is only ninety miles from Tucson, a distance which counts as “local” in the Southwest. And so whenever we have out of town guests, we always figure out how to make a trip to Bisbee for an afternoon. It’s one of my favorite places to hang out in Arizona on the weekends.

Bisbee began life as a very wild and rough copper mining camp in 1880. The “streets,” such as they were, were haphazard and were better suited for drainage down Tombstone Canyon in the craggy Mule Mountains than they were for traffic. Over the next few years, simple miners’ cabins and businesses eventually replaced the tents, paved streets replaced the muddy paths, and something resembling law and order finally, over the course of twenty years or so, replaced the prostitution, gambling and gunfights in Bisbee’s many saloons along Brewery Gulch. Bisbee’s reputation was never as bad as it’s northern neighbor Tombstone though, and so in 1929, the citizens of Cochise County voted to move the county seat 23 miles to the south and place it in a brand new art deco courthouse north of downtown. The Copper Queen Hotel provided first class lodgings for businessmen and tourists, and the Copper Queen Hospital provided medical care for Bisbee’s denizens.

Miners' homes on the hillsides behind Brewery Gulch

Prohibition calmed things down considerably, but the mines kept the town busy. But the switch from subterranean mining to one massive open pit meant the loss of thousands of jobs. But by 1975, even the Lavender Pit Mine was no longer economically viable, and the Phelps Dodge Corporation shut it down for good. That decision very nearly spelled the end of the town. It looked like Bisbee was about to become yet another of the many ghost towns tucked into the mountains in the southwest.

But just housing prices collapsed, hippie refugees and artists quickly discovered that they could afford to purchase a tiny minor’s cabin for the price of the grocery tab. By the 1980′s Bisbee became known for the live-and-let-live attitudes these new residents brought to the community. By the 1990′s hip retirees discovered that they could afford to indulge their passions for glass art and painting while living off of their Social Security checks whether they ever sold anything or not. And by the turn of the millennium, gay couples looking to flee the ghettos of L.A. and San Francisco found Bisbee to be a more affordable, less pretentious, friendlier, and much more walkable retirement destination than Palm Springs. (In fact, because much of Bisbee is built on the sides of the canyons, many homes can’t be reached by car; thousands of concrete stairs over several dozen stairways serve as replacements for streets and sidewalks.)

One way to get around town.

Bisbee (unofficial motto: “Keep Bisbee freaky”) is home to several fine restaurants, coffee roasters, dive bars, art galleries and antique stores (at least one of which, based on my experience, is generous with “family” discounts). It is also home to the stately and restored Copper Queen Hotel, along with several other historic hotels and B&B’s. If you want to stay somewhere funkier, you can book a night in a restored 1950s’ travel trailer at the Shade Dell. And if you happen to be there in mid-June, you can check out Bisbee’s Gay Pride celebration, complete with a lingerie pub crawl, a drag race and bull run up Brewery Gulch, and a Miners and Madames Street Dance. In 2007, Out magazine listed it among the top five rural Pride events in the country. Or you can come in mid-October for Great Bisbee Stair Climb, which is a run up one of Bisbee’s 1,000-step staircases.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. PLEASE, don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).