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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, April 02, 2013 5:51 pm

Arizona city nears vote on civil unions

The Associated Press

The City Council in a former mining community-turned-artist's haven in rural southeastern Arizona is scheduled to vote Tuesday night on an ordinance to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples.

The proposed Bisbee ordinance said the city wants to end "discriminatory practices against members of the lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender community" so that couples could have lasting and meaningful relationships regardless of sexual orientation.

The ordinance would make Bisbee the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving them rights now enjoyed by married couples.

However, Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon said that the ordinance's impact would only apply to things within the city's control. He says those would include city personnel policies and the city cemetery.

"We can't as a small jurisdiction in southeastern Arizona change everything in Arizona," he said Tuesday before the meeting.

MacKinnon said others will decide how the ordinance might apply to things outside the city's direct control, such as the hospital.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the ordinance would be unconstitutional, and he said his office would go to court to block it.

The ordinance attempts to change state law on things such as community property and only the state can change that law, Horne said in statement.

In advance of the meeting, a conservative Christian advocacy group said the ordinance would violate Arizona's ban on same-sex marriage and would be the subject of a costly legal fight.

In a letter sent Monday, the Phoenix-based Center for Arizona Policy said Bisbee's ordinance attempted "to do an end-run" around the state's marriage laws.

MacKinnon said the group was equating civil unions with marriage. "I don't think that's necessarily the case," he said.

Arizona voters in 2008 approved a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.

Two years earlier, voters rejected a broader version that also would have barred the state and local governments from creating or recognizing "a legal status for unmarried persons that is similar to marriage."

The proposed Bisbee ordinance drew unanimous support from the council on March 19 on an initial vote.

Bisbee is the seat of mostly rural Cochise County in southeastern Arizona. The former mining community has an estimated population of 5,600.

Under the ordinance, same-sex couples could go to City Hall and get a form indicating that they want to enter into a civil union. The city clerk would then issue the couple a certificate of the civil union.