The City Council in the southern Arizona community of Bisbee will rewrite a recently enacted civil union ordinance after being threatened with a lawsuit by the state Attorney General’s office, which said the ordinance ran afoul of a state ban on same-sex marriage.
The Council voted Thursday night to pull the ordinance so it can be revised to take out items that raised the ire of social conservatives and Attorney General Tom Horne. Those include community property, inheritances, appointment of guardians and disposition of remains after death.
"To the extent that we can eliminate that if we tighten the language we’re hoping that we can do that and we can move forward quickly," Mayor Adriana Badal said Friday.
A spokeswoman for Horne said the decision likely means a lawsuit expected to be filed next week won’t be necessary.
"If they tweak it, to where the ordinance breaks no state laws, we will have no reason to sue," spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
The Attorney General said the ordinance violated parts of a 2008 voter approved state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
The ordinance passed last week made Bisbee the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving the couples the rights now held by married couples. The 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 cites state laws in inheritance and other areas while saying a person in a Bisbee-recognized civil union would have the same responsibilities and benefits as a married person. City Attorney John MacKinnon said last week that it would only affect things that the city controls, such as its personnel practices and the city cemetery, although it did mention inheritance and adoptions.
"The things that we were offering them were as innocuous as family passes to our pool and the right to be buried in our municipal cemetery. So they don’t come close to the rights that married people have," Badal said.
Grisham, Horne’s spokeswoman, said the planned suit was intended to make sure that people entering into civil unions in Bisbee are not fooled into believing they’ll get legal rights prohibited by state law.
Opponents and proponents packed the council chambers and gave comments for hours before the 5-2 vote adopting the law.
Bisbee, a former mining town, has a population of about 5,600 and has become a haven for artists.
Since Bisbee’s adoption of the ordinance, other cities and towns across the state have been calling city officials asking about it and saying they may consider similar laws, Badal said. She said she hopes the new ordinance can be ready for a vote by June and act as a model for others in the state. She also said she believes that same-sex marriage will eventually be legal.
"The main intent was symbolic more than anything, it was to communicate to the gay and lesbian community in Bisbee that we accept and recognize them and that we will help fight for their civil rights and equality," Badal said.