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Ariz. town approves local law allowing civil unions for same-sex couples

Tuesday, June 4, 2013
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BISBEE, Ariz. — The Bisbee, Ariz., city council voted Tuesday night to approve a new version of a proposed local law allowing civil unions for same-sex couples.

The 5-2 vote makes Bisbee the first Arizona town to recognize civil unions.

The council had voted May 21 to formally propose a scaled-back version of the ordinance that would legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

In April, council members approved an earlier version of the measure that sought to give people in civil unions the same benefits as those in marriages.

But city officials decided to rewrite the measure after Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne threatened to sue over provisions that Horne said were in conflict with state law or went beyond the city’s authority.

Horne’s office said he approves of Bisbee’s new version of the ordinance and won’t sue to try to block it.

A line in the original ordinance, which has since been omitted, said couples in a civil un ion 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 a s 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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