SIERRA VISTA - A former mining community in rural southern Arizona that has shifted over the years into an artists' haven and tourist destination is poised to become the first city in this conservative state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.
The Bisbee City Council, on an initial vote Tuesday, unanimously endorsed an ordinance that would give same-sex partners in civil unions the same rights in the city as married couples, the Sierra Vista Herald reported (http://bit.ly/Y1NIHL).
A formal vote on the measure is scheduled for April 2.
Bisbee City Councilman Ken Budge called the proposed ordinance long overdue. He described Bisbee, which is more liberal than most Cochise County communities, as a "compassionate and open city" doing the right thing.
"We are the blue dot in a red state of red," he said.
Some of the wording for the ordinance is from bills proposed but not passed in the Republican-led Arizona Legislature.
The head of an influential advocacy group for social conservatives said the group was studying how Bisbee's proposal "interfaces with state law."
"Clearly Bisbee granting civil unions is not in accordance with state policy," said Cathi Herrod, president of the Phoenix-based Center for Arizona Policy. "Clearly it applies only in Bisbee."
Tucson enacted a city law in December 2003 that recognized domestic partnerships, but Bisbee's proposed ordinance appears more comprehensive.
Under the ordinance, two people in a civil union would be considered spouses in such matters as property ownership, guardianship in cases of illness, and disposition of remains upon death, City Attorney John MacKinnon said.
The measure says Bisbee would be exercising "inherent powers of self-government" under its city charter to attempt to reduce discriminatory practices. It also says every person has the right to enter into a "lasting and meaningful relationship with the partner of his or her choice, regardless of the particular sexual orientation of that partnership."
If the ordinance is approved, same-sex couples could go to City Hall and get a form indicating they want to enter into a civil union. The city clerk would file the notarized form and a signed affidavit, then issue the couple a certificate of the civil union.
The form would cost $76, the same cost of a marriage license.
Several Bisbee residents urged the council to support the measure.
Margo McCartney said after her partner of 16 years died, the partner's daughter had to sign all documents because the couple wasn't married and had no rights.
"It's so humiliating," McCartney said through tears. "So. I'm hoping that Bisbee will be out there first."