News (USA)

Ariz. AG advises cities on what they can include in civil union ordinances

Ariz. AG advises cities on what they can include in civil union ordinances

PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne called city attorneys to his office Monday to give them advice on what they can include in civil union ordinances without running afoul of a state law banning same-sex marriage.

Horne’s action came after he threatened to sue the city of Bisbee for including references to rights to inheritance, property ownership, guardianship and others like those granted to married couples in a new ordinance. The city put the ordinance on hold earlier this month to re-craft it to avoid a suit.

Tom Horne

A national group that seeks full legal rights for LGBT people issued a legal analysis Monday saying that Bisbee’s law is legal, and it believes the city’s use of the “civil unions” term is what drew Horne’s attention.

“I think that perhaps he may have focused on the name given to this status more than the city’s description of what it was intending to do,” said Jennifer Pizer, senior counsel for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

She said the ordinance is directed at city benefits but also designed to make it easier for residents in same-sex relationships to create a public record about their wishes in health care, property rights and other legal arrangements.

“It makes it easier for institutions or third parties to understand that those arrangements have been made and to respect the wishes of that family,” Pizer said.

Bisbee officials have said they expect a new version of the ordinance that changes language Horne found legally suspect by June.

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Horne said the ordinance violated parts of a 2008 voter approved state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages and tried to change seven state laws. Pizer disagreed.

“It seems to me the ordinance is explicit that it is absolutely not trying to change state law, it is using state law as reference, or approaches that couples for example can use in characterizing their own property,” sh e said.

The ordinance passed early this month made Bisbee the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving the couples rights now held by married couples.

The ordinance said the city 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 ordinance cites state laws in inheritance and other areas, while saying a person in a Bisbee-recognized civil union would have the same responsibilities and benefits as a married person.

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