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Attorney General agrees to help Bisbee draft a new civil union measure

The city of Bisbee has agreed to rewrite its civil union ordinance for gay couples a second time. The announcement came Monday after Bisbee officials met with Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. Horne threatened to sue Bisbee after it passed the measure a few weeks ago.  

He said his office will work with Bisbee officials to draft a civil union ordinance that would not violate state law. Horne said Bisbee’s original plan would have granted special rights to same sex or unmarried couples and that’s not permitted under state statutes. 

Horne said he believes his office can work together with Bisbee to craft a civil union measure that meets the letter of the law. 

“This is not marriage. This is simply a way of publicly recording and acknowledging that people have entered into private agreements that they have a right to enter into now. So it's really a matter of symbolic rather than substantive significance," he said. 

Jennifer Pizer is with Lambda Legal Defense and Education fund. She’s helping Bisbee rewrite the measure and she’s confident gay couples will be granted privledges that married couples have, like shared medical health care cost benefits, discounted fees for museums and public swimming pools.

“Bisbee I think has done the original service here of casting a bright light on this subject and showing that there are some things that cities can do and if a city cares about providing welcome and some additional protections for the diverse families that live in a city there are things they should do…and they should do it," Pizer said.  

Pizer anticipates Bisbee’s new ordinance will also allow people in same-sex relationships to register private contracts for things like wills and guardianship. 

Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon said the civil union debate shows the city lives up to its progressive reputation.

“I hope it says that we’re an open and tolerant place that wants to treat all members of our community in the same fair manner under the law, and that’s certainly our intent,” he said.  

Horne said Bisbee’s civil union ordinance doesn’t pave the way for legalizing same sex marriages in Arizona. He said even though gay marriages are outlawed in the state, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final say on the issue.

Meanwhile, a handful of other cities are expected to follow Bisbee’s lead. A Tempe city council member said he’s working on language for an ordinance. And gay rights advocates said the state legislature needs to approve a bill that would clearly define state policy for civil unions in the future.