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Arizona Town Agrees To Change Historic Civil Union Ordinance In Face Of Threat

Bisbee, Ariz. has a population of about 6,000 people.
Michel Marizco
Bisbee, Ariz. has a population of about 6,000 people.

At the beginning of the month, the tiny town of Bisbee was the first in Arizona to recognize civil unions for gay couples.

But with the city council’s passage of the resolution came a threat from Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. He argued the ordinance would give same-sex couples the same rights constitutionally granted to married couples. Voters changed the state's constitution in 2008 to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

On Monday, Horne withdrew his threat after the town’s lawyers agreed to change the language of the bill. The Arizona Republic clarifies:

Bisbee’s ordinance was intended to grant rights only in areas that the city controlled, but it also said couples in a civil union would be considered “spouses” and mentioned legal rights in areas typically outside a city’s jurisdiction such as property, inheritance, adoption and guardianship. In a letter Horne sent to the city after its council vote, he said he believed that the city attempted to go beyond what it can legally do.

KJZZ reports that Horne believes his office can work together with Bisbee to craft a civil union measure that meets the letter of the law.

“This is not marriage. This is simply a way of publicly recording and acknowledging that people have entered into private agreements that they have a right to enter into now. So it's really a matter of symbolic rather than substantive significance," [Horne] said.

Attorney General’s office will help oversee the subsequent language change, seeking to clearly separate a civil union contract from the rights granted by the state.

According to The Arizona Republic, the town intends to hold another vote and enact the new version of the bill later this summer.