PHOENIX — Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne will go to court to block the artists’ community of Bisbee from implementing a newly approved ordinance recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples, his office said Wednesday.
Horne’s office will file its planned lawsuit “in the coming weeks” before the ordinance approved Tuesday night by the Bisbee City Council takes effect in 30 days, Horne spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said.
The council approved the ordinance on a 5-2 vote during an overflow meeting after three hours of emotional testimony by residents of the former mining town in mostly rural southeastern Arizona.
Horne had written Bisbee officials Tuesday, expressing concern about the then-pending ordinance.
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Horne said he was not taking a policy stance against civil unions by planning to sue. Rather, he said, the council acted outside its legal authority because state laws control things such as ownership of a couple’s community property, inheritances, appointment of guardians and disposition of remains after death.
The ordinance cites those state laws and others while saying a person in a Bisbee-recognized civil union would have the same responsibilities and benefits as a married person.
However, Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon said Tuesday that the ordinance would only affect things that the city controls, such as its personnel practices and the city cemetery.
Bisbee wasn’t changing state law and was acting within its authority, MacKinnon said.
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.
MacKinnon, who also has a private law practice, said he would take on the anticipated state legal challenge at no charge to the city. Bisbee resident and retired attorney Margo McCartney, also offered her services, the Sierra Vista Herald reported.
Arizona voters in 2008 approved Proposition 102 a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriages. However, two years earlier, voters rejected a broader version that would have barred the state and local governments from creating or recognizing “a legal status for unmarried persons that is similar to marriage.”
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