Sedona Council considers protecting same-sex couples

Civil unions in the Red Rocks?

SEDONA - The City of Sedona's Wednesday council meeting marks the first time members will consider recognizing civil unions.

Mayor Rob Adams said the city's voters tend to be fiscally conservative, with a slight left lean on social issues. He himself has been active in the LGBT community since he took office.

"It has a good chance of passing, but you don't know until it comes down to the vote," Adams said.

Most states that do not recognize same-sex marriage, like Texas, also prohibit recognition of anything similar to marriage. Civil unions offer almost identical protection to a marriage, with fewer rights attached to domestic partnerships.

Parties in a civil union are given the right to visitation in health care facilities, use of and access to city facilities and city employee benefits. Both parties agree they are each other's sole civil union partner and are in a relationship of mutual support.

While Article 30 of the Arizona Constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, there is not a provision that prohibits same-sex couples from pursuing some other form of legal recognition.

At the urging of council members Barbara Litrell and Jessica Williamson, a special session on Sept. 11 will provide the council with information to help members determine whether to draft ordinances that would recognize civil unions and protect sexual orientation in employment and housing.

Tucson protects both civil unions and sexual orientation in housing and the workplace, though the city's health provider does not cover same-sex partnerships.

Bisbee and Jerome have passed ordinances allowing civil unions, while Phoenix and Flagstaff have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for housing and employment.

There are currently no laws at the state level preventing discrimination by private employers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. They exist in 21 states.

Sedona sampled from Bisbee and Tucson to create a preliminary ordinance that will not provoke legal challenges.

Bisbee's initial ordinance passed in March and made claims related to inheritance, adoption and guardianship rights, crossing into state law. Prompted by the area's all-Republican legislators, Attorney General Tom Horne stated in a press release that he would pursue legal action if this went into effect.

The city repealed the law and enacted a similar one in June that removed these specific claims. Tucson's ordinance passed weeks later, amending laws recognizing domestic partnerships to refer to civil unions.

There has not been a further challenge from the AG's office.

"I wanted for the state to make a decision regarding the Bisbee ordinance and make sure we didn't get ourselves into a long legal battle," Adams said.

Tucson allows for documents related to real property management or child custody to be turned in as part of the civil union. Sedona's draft would follow Bisbee's model of allowing a simple list of legal arrangements to accompany civil union documents in order to prevent an added burden to the city clerk.

While Bisbee's ordinance allows people authorized by state statutes to perform marriages to "solemnize" civil unions, Sedona's will not due to "legal concerns about the ability of the cities and towns to authorize persons to "solemnize' a civil union," according to information in the agenda packet.

The council will give the issue one hour starting at 4 p.m. at its City Council Chambers, 102 Roadrunner Drive, Sedona. Members may allow the city attorney to draft a civil union ordinance and give instructions for the enactment of anti-discrimination ordinances.

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