Horne is OK with new Bisbee civil unions measure

PHOENIX - The city of Bisbee is moving forward with a new version of a proposed local law allowing civil unions, and a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says Horne won't sue to try to block it.

The Bisbee City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday night to formally propose a scaled-back version of the ordinance.  That sets the stage for a June 4 vote by the council on whether to approve the measure.

"He thinks it's fine," Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Wednesday in Phoenix regarding Horne's view of the new version.

Bisbee officials rewrote an earlier version of the ordinance after Horne threatened to sue over provisions Horne said conflicted with state law or went beyond the city's authority.

A spokesman for the Center for Arizona Policy, a Phoenix-based group of Christian social conservatives that criticized the original Bisbee ordinance, did not immediately return a call for comment on the new version.

The council postponed implementation of the original ordinance, which sought to give people in civil unions the same benefits as those in marriages.

The new version still sets forth a process for Bisbee to recognize civil unions but describes those as contractual agreements.

A line in the original ordinance, which has since been omitted, said couples in a civil union would have the same responsibilities and benefits as married couples.

Under the new version, people who are in civil unions recognized only within the city of Bisbee could file contractual statements spelling out their agreed-upon "rights, obligations and expectations" in matters such as inheritances, property ownership and children.

Some of those agreements "may require additional documentation and other formalities" to make them effective under state law, the revised ordinance states, adding that "the city of Bisbee makes no warranty or guarantee regarding the legality or enforceability of any agreements or nominations of the parties."

For itself, the city said it would recognize civil unions in connection with employee benefits and city activities such as cemetery operations.

The ordinance retains policy statements saying the city supports efforts to combat discrimination against gay and lesbian couples.

Citing state laws on such things as property ownership, Horne had said people entering into Bisbee-recognized civil unions could have been misled about what rights they actually had under the original ordinance.

Several Arizona cities, including Tempe, have said they are considering similar civil union ordinances.

Tucson already has a domestic-partner registry, but officials of the southern Arizona city are considering changes to allow couples to record partnership contracts, similar to Bisbee's revised measure.

The Tucson registry currently provides couples with only a few tangible benefits, such as giving partners additional hospital visitation rights and recognizing partners as a family for purposes of qualifying for city services.

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