Arizona AG to sue to block civil unions in Bisbee

AP News
Posted: Apr 03, 2013 2:37 PM

PHOENIX (AP) — 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.

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.

More than 100 people attended the council meeting, and the fire chief eventually ordered some people outside after attendees began sitting on the floor. People then stood outside City Hall, gazing through open windows at the proceedings.

"Change is coming, and for once, let's be the first, not the last," said Bisbee resident Bree Holcomb, a supporter of the ordinance.

Resident Gayle Schasteen said many residents had been unaware the council was considering the ordinance, which she called "against God's law."

Tom Holley, pastor of Bisbee's Assembly of God church, said the council was using tax dollars to push personal agendas in Bisbee and across Arizona.

"I'm not against these people. I'm against what they stand for, what they are doing," he said.

Resident Hywel Logan said he felt compelled to attend the meeting to support the ordinance because critics were organizing against it.

"It seems ridiculous that I have to defend my relationship," said Logan, who is gay.

Arizona voters in 2008 approved 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."