An agreement between the city of Bisbee, Arizona and AZ AG Tom Horne means that the civil union ordinance that the city has created will lose much of its power, but will mean that Horne will not oppose it or sue to stop it. Horne believed that the ordinance was in conflict with state law.
Horne and Jennifer Pizer of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is representing Bisbee, said that the city will rewrite a section of the ordinance to make it clear that the ordinance does not confer any rights under state law.
The problem was that the ordinance mentioned seven state laws, including the right to inherit and share community property. The ordinance made it clear that Bisbee residents who registered a civil union would have those laws applied to them, but according to Horne, the ordinance could end up fooling people into thinking that they would receive those rights just by registering a civil union.
Horne stated “If the ordinance were put into effect as written, it could mislead people, because they can confer inheritance by wills, they can enter into contracts with each other which are binding under current law, and our fear was people might refrain from doing that thinking they are covered by civil unions.”
Bisbee wanted to make it easier for same-sex couples to take advantage of city benefits and current state contract law, according to Pizer. The civil unions were intended to create a public record about the wishes of these couples with regards to healthcare, property rights and other legal arrangements.
Pizer said “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.”
Horne stated that the ordinance violated parts of the voter-approved constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and that it tried to change seven state laws. Pizer disagreed with that assessment. The changes will mean that the ordinance is less sweeping overall.
Horne stated that “This is not marriage. This is simply a way of publically recording and acknowledging that people have entered into private agreements that they have a right to enter into now. So it’s a matter really of symbolic rather than substantive significance.”
Which, oddly enough, is pretty much what civil marriage is. It’s just no one seems to want to make that point. Bisbee officials think the new version of the ordinance will be in place by June.