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 But even if there were, those agencies would be regulate by state law, which cannot be superseded by a city ordinance.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.

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