The city of Tempe has made efforts in recent months to investigate whether or not legalizing civil unions would be the appropriate route to benefit citizens and if it would be permissible in the state.
The city of Bisbee legalized civil unions in the spring sparking controversy and prompting Attorney General Tom Horne to threaten legal action against the ordinance.
Councilman Kolby Granville said he had asked city attorneys about state law regarding civil unions at the time.
“There are certain statutes for designated states and marriage is typically considered to be a state issue,” Granville said. “When Bisbee passed what they passed the first time, I was really surprised.”
Granville’s question was put on the executive session agenda but is attorney-client privileged and cannot be discussed at this time.
He said cities which have passed civil union ordinances, like Bisbee and Tucson, are in accordance with state law, because they are more contractual agreements than civil unions.
“They call it civil unions, but what it really is is a way that you fill out some paperwork at the city and get benefits in one go via contracts, not through the city providing marriage,” he said.
The contractual agreements were what led Horne to drop the potential threat of a lawsuit to Bisbee. The agreements are not the civil unions that states such as California, Maine and Massachusetts have in place.
“It’s a relevant gesture to say, ‘Look we value every citizen in our community, but from a legal standpoint, it’s not really granting anything you couldn’t do yourself,’” Granville said.
Bisbee Councilman Ken Budge said although the civil unions passed were more contractual agreements, he thought the LGBT community could still benefit greatly.
“This is only recognized in the city of Bisbee, but they can take the contract to a hospital in Tucson and have benefits,” Budge said. “The benefits are far-reaching for same-sex couples in this sense.”
Budge said cities throughout the state had contacted Bisbee in months since the ordinance passed.
“We’ve actually had quite a few cities look into this issue themselves,” he said. “It’s a different cultural generation that is being brought up. This is where our country is going. We need to start making this the best we can. We’ll be better for it.”
Granville said he had talked to numerous organizations such as Lambda Legal, Equality Arizona and the Human Rights Campaign about what could be done to otherwise champion equality rights until gay marriage is on the 2016 ballot in Arizona.
The HRC responded to Granville and suggested Tempe raise its Municipality Equality Index score. The HRC evaluates the LGBT policies of municipalities and the inclusivity of services and gives them a score accordingly.
Since then, Granville and Councilman Corey Woods have been researching how to achieve a score of 90, which would require them to make improvements through the city council.
“I want to make sure whatever we do accomplishes the task of providing the people in our community with more rights and the benefits they deserve,” Woods said. “The ordinance in Bisbee had to be amended. I want to make sure we don’t end up in that situation. I want to know it holds up the first time.”
Woods said he and Granville had been working on a draft for improving Tempe’s MEI score and had recently heard back from the HRC. He said he hoped to present something to council within the year but did not have a concrete timetable for the proceedings.
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