BISBEE, AZ - The City Council in a former mining community-turned-artist's haven in rural southeastern Arizona voted Tuesday night to approve an ordinance to recognize civil unions for same-sex couples.
The measure -- approved on a 5-2 vote following an emotional three-hour hearing -- makes Bisbee the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving the couples the rights now enjoyed by married couples.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has said the ordinance would be unconstitutional, and has promised to go to court to block it.
The ordinance said the city of about 5,600 people 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 measure allows same-sex couples to go to City Hall and pay $76 -- the same cost of a marriage license in Cochise County -- to enter into a civil union, 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 impact would only apply to things within the city's control. That includes city personnel policies and the city cemetery, he said. Others will decide how the ordinance might apply to things outside the city's direct control, such as the hospital, he said.
"We can't as a small jurisdiction in southeastern Arizona change everything in Arizona," he said before the meeting.
More than 100 people attended Tuesday's crowded meeting. The Bisbee Fire Chief, citing worries over a fire hazard, eventually ordered people to leave the building after some attendees began sitting on the floor. People then stood outside City Hall, gazing through open windows at the proceedings.
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.
Horne said in a statement that the measure attempts to change state law on things such as community property. Only the state can change that law, he said.
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