Update: Bisbee to Revise Civil Union Law

Last week, we wrote about Bisbee, an Arizona city that passed a law allowing same-sex civil unions and accompanying rights and benefits. This week, after legal pressure from the Arizona Attorney General, the Bisbee council voted to nullify the law, but the city plans to revise it to allow same-sex partner benefits while avoiding conflict with the Arizona constitution.

In 2008, Arizona voters passed a constitutional amendment that said “only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.” State Attorney General Tom Horne argues that this means Bisbee cannot define a “union” as between two same-sex partners, even for purposes of localized city benefits. In a letter to the council he wrote:

“While it is our understanding that the City Council’s intent is that the impact of the Ordinance will be limited to the jurisdictional boundaries of the City of Bisbee, the impact goes beyond those boundaries. This is evidenced by constitutional and statutory provisions pertaining to marriage, community property, inheritance of property, priority of appointment of personal representative, priority of appointment as a guardian, life insurance, disposition of remains, and rights of adoption. These are areas of state-wide concern and exceed the authority and powers of the City of Bisbee to regulate by ordinance.”

In other words, Horne believes that state law and a state interest in uniformity preempts Brisbee from creating a local definition of “union.”

Bisbee is not giving up, however. The council plans to rewrite the provision by dropping the word “union,” but maintaining the substantive benefits that same-sex partners would have received under the original law. It also voted to accept legal help from the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal should the state challenge the new law. We’ll keep you updated!

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