Arizona city poised to pass state's first civil union ordinance

BISBEE, Arizona Tue Apr 2, 2013 6:10am EDT

Bride and groom figurines are on display on wedding cakes at Cake and Art bakery in West Hollywood, California June 4, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Bride and groom figurines are on display on wedding cakes at Cake and Art bakery in West Hollywood, California June 4, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

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BISBEE, Arizona (Reuters) - A former Arizona copper mining town reborn as an artists' community is poised to become on Tuesday the first city in the conservative southwestern state to allow civil unions between same-sex couples.

The City Council in Bisbee, a city of 5,600 residents in southeast Arizona, is set to pass an ordinance allowing any couple regardless of their sex or sexual orientation to join in a civil ceremony.

The Council approved it at a first reading last month by a unanimous vote, and officials expect it to pass at a second reading on Tuesday night, making the city a standout in the state whose constitution recognizes marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

"We're here and we're forging ahead ... We're not going to wait," said Gene Conners, an enthusiastic first-term Council member who proposed the measure.

"To me this is about civil rights. It's about the opportunities and benefits that we all have, and why deny it to that particular group?" he added.

A city founded on a mountain of copper ore in 1902, Bisbee reinvented itself as a laid-back artists' enclave after the local Phelps Dodge mine shut in 1975.

The Council's vote comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to strike down a law that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, in a move that would reflect growing support in the United States for gay marriage.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll last month found that 55 percent of Americans surveyed said married gay and lesbian couples should be able to qualify for Social Security survivor payments and other benefits provided to married heterosexual couples.

The proposed ordinance in Bisbee, which a popular local bumper sticker describes as a "liberal oasis in conservative desert," draws on language in a state civil union bill currently stalled in the Republican-controlled Arizona legislature.

CITY HALL CERTIFICATES

If passed, the ordinance would come into effect in May. Couples would be able to go to City Hall and pay $76 - the cost of a marriage license at the county courthouse - for a civil union certificate.

It would only be valid within the limits of the city, a picturesque trove of landmark buildings, galleries, coffee shops and old miners' cottages perched in the folds of the Mule Mountains overlooking Mexico.

Benefits extended to couples would include the right to visit their sick partner in the hospital, obtain a family pass for the city swimming pool, and, for city employees, the chance for their partner to buy into their benefits - rights that they do not currently have.

"It's a wonderful community, and it's very welcoming. To me it makes perfect sense to eliminate some of the obstacles that prevent people from participating," Mayor Adriana Badal told Reuters.

Several people have written to the Council to protest the measure, among them at least one business owner who felt that it could hurt local tourism, while others opposed it on religious grounds, including Ralph Bedolla, a pastor from the local Fountains of Living Waters Christian Church.

"Why is this being called a Civil Union ordinance? If all were up front it would be called what it really is, a Marriage ordinance. It is not called this because I believe that you ... really know that it is wrong," Bedolla wrote the mayor and City Council last week.

He said the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman "is by far the truth. Nowhere in the history of the Bible or this nation for that fact has that ever been changed."

But other residents have embraced the ordinance, among them Melissa Reaves and her partner of 13 years, Jennifer Garland, who are the first in line to be joined in civil union should the measure be passed.

"The biggest thing that it would mean for me as a part of the gay community ... is being one step closer to not being a second-class citizen," said Reaves, a popular local musician.

"Then of course logistics, the right for my partner, God forbid, to come into the hospital and see me if anything ever happened to me," she added.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)

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Comments (6)
JenJ wrote:
Guys, I hate to have to keep saying this, but “traditional” marriage was never one man and one woman. It was one man and several women. Examples abound in the Bible: Jacob and Rachel and Leah, Abram and Sarai and Hagar, David and half the planet, Solomon and the rest of the planet, and I could go on. Oppose same-sex marriage if you want, but stop using this “traditional marriage” argument. It’s just not valid.

Apr 02, 2013 9:52am EDT  --  Report as abuse
randombrad wrote:
It’s a Civil Union, I say the term marriage should be left for a man and a woman, I feel that civil unions with these rights attached to them is the only way for a compromise in this country.

Apr 02, 2013 9:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
BlakeC wrote:
This isn’t about religion. Marraige isn’t about religion. Heterosexuals of no faith or different faiths get married. When people stop using the “Bible” word, everything becomes equal. That is an outdated document and no one follows what is written in there unless they want to argue a point. We don’t stone women, we don’t cut off hands or pluck out eyes. If we followed that book, human kind would be extinct by now. And for those who say, “God said”, God said what? He never spoke to a human being and he has never been seen. Does he exist? I can’t tell you because I don’t know; no one knows because there isn’t a shred of proof of him or anything written in that book. Not one piece of evidence exists, so stop bringing it up. Treating a group of people differently is discrimination no matter who it is. If you take Jerry Fallwell and Jim Bakker as the moral majority examples, then they are all hypocrites anyway. And by the way, adultery is one of the 10 commandments. If being gay was so bad it would be one.

Apr 02, 2013 10:58am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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