Commentary: Take heart: City Hall can fight the state
Maybe you can’t fight City Hall, but sometimes City Hall can fight the state. Bisbee’s civil union ordinance is proof of that.
While there is an array of opinions about what actually will be accomplished in the finished version of the ordinance, there was definitely a sense that city lawyers understood what Arizona statutes allow better than Attorney General Tom Horne.
After using his state powers to challenge municipal actions, plus a round of closed-door meetings, Horne had to admit the obvious: Domestic partnerships carry many of the same rights as marriages and there is nothing wrong with a city spelling out what those rights are.
It was clear Horne saw Bisbee’s new ordinance as a step toward allowing gay “marriages” in Arizona.
That turned out to be nonsense. Bisbee’s only interest is in Bisbee. And Horne’s riding into town to protect Arizonans from the very idea quickly became very bad public relations. If he thought he would lead the state’s righteous backlash certain to come at the laissez-faire town, it was a misfire.
Arizonans have a complex attitude about couplehood. As much as many abhor the thought of same-sex marriage, there is also an overwhelming attitude that the state should keep its nose out of people’s bedrooms and stop dictating who has what rights.
Phoenix and Tucson already allow unmarried couples (gay or otherwise) to register as domestic partners, which mainly helps with hospital visitation and getting of benefits in companies that recognize domestic partnerships. Bisbee’s move will allow them to register as civil unions to help couples take advantage of city benefits.
Horne’s backup mode - that he got involved to protect innocent residents of Bisbee from believing the new ordinance was granting them automatic “marriage” rights - hardly holds up under scrutiny either, though Bisbee is now busy correcting its phrasing.
On that point, the attorney general may claim a hollow victory for the state, but it is really Bisbee City Hall that has come out of this awkward fray in the best light. Even those who loath this particular issue can take heart in the fact that City Hall can fight the state when it matters.