Mon, Dec. 09

Green light for civil unions in Clarkdale, Cottonwood
Clarkdale council agrees to draft civil union ordinance

Cottonwood City Council Member Jesse Dowling: “To deny this is to deny reality. We all know someone of an alternate persuasion.” VVN/Jon Pelletier

Cottonwood City Council Member Jesse Dowling: “To deny this is to deny reality. We all know someone of an alternate persuasion.” VVN/Jon Pelletier

The Clarkdale Town Council decided Tuesday night to draft an ordinance that would allow couples to file for civil unions.

Council member Curtiss Bohall pushed to have the item added to Clarkdale's agenda after similar measures were passed this summer by Sedona, Jerome, Bisbee and Tucson.

"This proposed ordinance makes perfect sense to me," he said.

Town Manager Gayle Mabery said the work session was meant for the council to direct the staff on the specifics of the ordinance, including how to determine what the filing fee would be, how Clarkdale would define a domestic partnership or civil union, what documents can be included in the filing, and what language to use.

"This is not a marriage issue," Mabery said. "This is a civil union issue."

Mayor Doug Von Gausig reiterated that sentiment.

"This is about civil unions and domestic partnerships and the rights those people have in the community," Von Gausig said.

Council members agreed bringing civil unions to a public vote would incur unnecessary costs.

"Our job as a council is to make these types of decisions, and the people of Clarkdale vote us into place to make these types of decisions," said Council Member Reynold Radoccia.

Insurance benefits

The town's current insurance provider grants benefits to domestic partners, which councilman Richard Dehnert said makes that portion of the ordinance moot.

"If we had a civil union ordinance, it would just serve to codify the fact that we're doing what we're already doing," Dehnert said.

Mabery said Clarkdale's insurance provider has very specific guidelines couples must meet in order to receive benefits, like establishing that they've been living together for a minimum of 12 months.

"There's potential that a future ordinance could be in conflict with that," Mabery said. "The insurance company has a separate set of standards not tied to what our ordinance would be."

Jerome and Sedona have the same insurance carrier as Clarkdale. Jerome drafted its ordinance to say civil unions will not interfere with any insurance policy, and Mabery said that's an option Clarkdale may exercise in its own measure.

Hospital visits

Clarkdale does not have medical facilities, but Cottonwood is also proceeding with a civil union ordinance. If passed by both councils, there would be "reciprocity" where a certificate would be honored at medical facilities outside the town limits, Dehnert said.

"We're already respecting domestic partnerships as far as employee insurance," he said. "It's medical visitation that would be affected if we draft the ordinance."

Radoccia said the two areas an ordinance would impact, insurance benefits and hospital visitation, are very narrow.

"Towns and cities are doing this to make a statement," he said.

Who qualifies?

Ordinances typically articulate requirements that each person must meet to file for a civil union, like not being related to his or her partner by blood and being at least 18 years of age. Von Gausig suggested the Clarkdale ordinance simply state, two people who meet the requirements of marriage except for gender.

Mabery said civil unions "are not written to be exclusive to same-sex couples."

Dehnert suggested gender should be left out of it completely, possibly leaving civil unions open to two people in a relationship of mutual support, including platonic friends and siblings who may not be considered next of kin.

"This would protect rights to be at the bedside of a very close friend or a loved one," Dehnert said.

Civil union documents

The council decided to include the issuance of a civil union certificate, instead of a simple application stamped by the town clerk as stated in Sedona and Tucson's ordinance. Bisbee and Jerome issue a certificate.

"It means something to people that go out of their way to do this," Von Gausig said. "I don't see a big cost one way or the other."

The staff was directed by the council to estimate what the true cost would be to process civil union documents, and create a fee system to reflect that.

Clarkdale's ordinance draft will follow Tucson's example to allow couples to submit a list of legal documents relating to any agreements they may have, like child custody. It will not include a list of shared intentions in order to reduce the burden on the town clerk.

Like Sedona, the ordinance will not reference solemnization or ceremonies in order to avoid potential legal conflicts.

Public comment

About 30 people attended the Tuesday meeting, many of whom were there to talk about smart meters, but around half a dozen were there to share their opinions on civil unions.

Clarkdale resident Sandy Booth said civil unions are a very narrow part of marriage equality, which is the civil rights issue of our time.

"I believe that one day, marriage equality will exist in the U.S.," she said. "I assumed Arizona would be among the last states to go along with that, but now I'm a little more hopeful."

Clarkdale resident Harold Boldin said he wasn't there to speak for or against a civil union or domestic partnership ordinance, but to ask that such a potentially controversial issue be decided by the voters.

If a majority are against a council-approved ordinance, it can be reversed through a referendum, adding an extra step and added costs to the process, he said.

"This is not an issue to just jump on the bandwagon," he said. "This is an issue that should be resolved by the voters of this town."

Clarkdale resident Ann Found pointed to Boothe's remarks about marriage equality to show that civil unions are directly related to marriage. The voters should be able to decide on this and, even then, there are no benefits to be gained to justify the costs of an election.

"It has the effect of a backdoor recognition of something our state law does not permit," she said.

He and his wife married after 11 years because she was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted a say in her treatment and death. At 63, he lives with his girlfriend and he said a civil union ordinance would create fairness for people who don't want to get married for financial reasons.

"I don't believe that the city of Clarkdale's employees or residents should be bound by dark-age rules," he said. "Being human comes first. What matters is treating other people the same as you would like to be treated yourself. This ordinance is a stepping stone to that."

Clarkdale resident Ida deBlanc thanked the council for taking up the issue.

"I really appreciate the civil and polite way that people are expressing their opinion," deBlanc said. "It's a discussion whose time has come."

Clarkdale resident Constance Kuraz said this is an issue that has nothing to do with gender and effects people in a very real way.

"I've heard many, many stories from people who were in hospitals and hospices where the most significant and intimate people in their lives had little say," Kuraz said. "This is one of those steps that will help change that, so that relationships, these bonds and love, are honored more cross-culturally."

Clarkdale resident William Martin whispered during most of the public comments, refuting some of the claims proponents of civil unions were making. With regard to making medical decisions, he said people could simply handle that through granting their partner power of attorney.

"I don't see why a city would have an ordinance to do something like this," he said. "Everybody should have a vote on it."

Clarkdale resident Jacqueline Leslie said the same-sex couples who live on her street are "decent people." Partners of employees of the town already receive benefits, so the equality is already there.

"This discussion is moot," she said.

By Dan Engler

Staff Reporter

It looks like Cottonwood will be the next Arizona municipality to adopt an ordinance recognizing domestic partnerships and civil unions.

City Council members discussed the measure during a Tuesday work session. While no formal action was taken, the general consensus was that the city should join ranks with Sedona, Jerome, Tucson, Bisbee and likely Clarkdale in recognition of civil unions. Further, council members instructed City Attorney Steve Horton to craft the ordinance for further consideration, and community discussion.

Such an ordinance, Horton explained, "does not sanction anything" and more than anything is a non-discriminatory statement of people in relationships outside the boundaries of traditional marriage.

Already, the city's state-sponsored health insurance provider recognizes such domestic relationships.

The ordinance, Horton explained, would allow the city to be an information repository for people involved in domestic partnerships and civil unions, both same-sex and opposite-sex.

"It would be completely voluntary," he said. "There would be no mandate for anyone to file."

Those who do, he explained, would be "making fact of the union and a statement of their committed relationship."

Veteran Council Member Ruben Jauregui said adoption of such an ordinance by Cottonwood "would be a step forward, this is the 21st century, and it's time all people were treated as human beings."

Added Council Member Jesse Dowling: "To deny this is to deny reality. We all know someone of an alternate persuasion."

Councilman Randall Garrison said he viewed the proposed ordinance as being less about civil unions and more about the city taking a stand against discrimination of those involved in such relationships.

As a starting point, council members instructed Horton to craft an ordinance similar to the one recently adopted in Sedona. From there, said Mayor Diane Joens, "there will be more community discussion."

In his official report to the council, Horton stated that municipal civil union registries typically address the following issues:

• A list of legal documents relating to matters involving their children, property, health care and other important matters between them.

• Require domestic/civil union partners to be treated the same as spouses for the purpose of accessing city facilities and services.

• They provide that to the extent allowed by law, domestic/civil union partners of city employees will be treated the same as spouses for the purpose of accessing city employment benefits, including health insurance and leave benefits.

• They require health care/hospice facilities to treat domestic/civil union partners the same as spouses for the purpose of visitation, as long as the patient consents.

"The communities that have adopted these ordinances have indicated that they seek to lessen the impact of discriminatory practices against members of the LGBT community, and to provide a meaningful statement of support for the right of all individuals to form lasting and meaningful personal relationships that are respected and recognized under the law, regardless of gender or sexual orientation," Horton's report stated.
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