Bisbee City Council set to vote on same-sex civil unions

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

BISBEE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Bisbee City Council is scheduled to decide Tuesday evening whether to make Bisbee the state's first city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

If approved, the ordinance would give same-sex partners in civil unions the same rights in the city as married couples.

City Attorney John MacKinnon told the council on March 19 that approval of the ordinance would mean that 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.

The ordinance states that Bisbee supports the right of every person to enter into a lasting and meaningful relationship with the partner of his or her choice, regardless of sexual orientation.

But a conservative Christian advocacy group says Bisbee can't legally recognize civil unions that would include same-sex couples.

A letter from the Phoenix-based Center for Arizona Policy says an ordinance would violate the Arizona Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage and would be the subject of a costly legal fight.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is raising constitutionality questions about a proposed ordinance.

Horne sent a letter to city councilors Tuesday afternoon. He says if the ordinance is passed at Tuesday evening's meeting, it would be unconstitutional. He also says his office would go to court to block it.

Horne contends the ordinance attempts to change state law on things such as community property and only the state can change that law.

The ordinance would make Bisbee the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, giving them rights now enjoyed by married couples.

Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon says the ordinance's impact would only apply to things within the city's control, such as city personnel policies.