In a small, former mining town turned artist colony, the city council last night approved an ordinance recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples.
The measure—adopted with a vote of 5-2 following an emotional three-hour hearing—makes Bisbee the first Arizona city to validate civil unions.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has promised to go to court to block the ordinance, calling it unconstitutional. The measure attempts to change state law on things such as community property, something only the state can do, he said.
Under the measure, same-sex couples can enter a civil union and receive the same rights as married couples simply by walking into City Hall and paying $76—the same fee couples pay for a marriage license in the county, The Sierra Vista Herald reported. The city clerk would then issue the couple a certificate of the civil union.
Earlier Tuesday, Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon said the ordinance’s power would only apply to things within the city’s control, including city personnel policies and the city cemetery. How it applies at the local hospital, for example, would be up to those institutions.
“We can’t as a small jurisdiction in southeastern Arizona change everything in Arizona,” he said before the hearing.
A conservative Christian advocacy group also spoke up before the meeting, saying the ordinance would violate Arizona’s ban on same-sex marriage and would lead to 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 wrote off the group’s concerns, saying it was equating civil unions with marriage. "I don't think that's necessarily the case," he said.