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Arizona's Anti-Gay Law Has Actually Allowed One Town to Pass Pro-Gay Laws

A small town in Arizona is taking up the fight for same-sex relationships all on its own. Although same-sex marriage is banned by constitutional amendment in Arizona, the tiny town of Bisbee has found a creative way to provide benefits for same-sex couples.

The city council of Bisbee, a small town with a population of about 5,600 residents, is very likely to pass an ordinance Tuesday that allows any couple to join in a civil ceremony regardless of their sex or sexual orientation. Approved unanimously last month by the city council on the first reading, the ordinance would make Bisbee the first city in Arizona to legally recognize and attempt to provide for same-sex couples. And although small, it is a meaningful first step toward providing right to all.

Oddly, the bill is possible due to a legal quirk in Arizona same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 102. Proposition 102 states, “only a union of one man and one woman shall be recognized as a marriage in this state.” It does not mention and therefore does not ban civil unions or other similar civil partnerships. The council’s recognition of civil unions takes advantage of this wording to offer civil unions.

The measure would provide benefits such as hospital visitation rights, obtaining a family pass for the city’s public pool, and allowing city employees partners the chance to buy into benefits; rights currently not enjoyed by same-sex couples. The civil union certificate would cost $76 and only be valid within the city limits of the former cooper mining town turned artists’ enclave.

Polling has shown that support for same sex legal recognition is on the rise in Arizona despite having a Republican dominated legislature, including Representative Matt Salmon, who opposes same-sex marriage despite having a gay son. A 2003 poll conducted by Northern Arizona University had 53% of respondents favoring civil unions. Forty-two percent supported outright same-sex marriage. A 2011 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed that support had skyrocketed, 72% of voters supporting civil unions at least. Among that group, 40% supported same-sex marriage outright. A follow-up poll by PPP in 2012 only confirmed the issue further, with 77% of voters believing that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry or form civil unions. And it is only not liberal voters, 94% Democratic support, but conservative, 63% Republican support, and independent voters, 83% support, as well.

Although a small step, it is significant for Arizona. Polling on the issue of same-sex marriage conducted by the Pew Research Center has shown that there is a sea of change occurring on all demographic levels when it comes to support of same-sex relationships. By showing the rest of the state that the sky does not fall down when same-sex marriages are given equal legal recognition, it gives more ammunition to those who seek rights for all couples in the state.

By having an example of municipality that smoothly implemented such measures, gay marriage opponents will have to rely on increasingly unpopular arguments such as “sanctity of marriage” or otherization of homosexuals. Bisbee’s City Council may have only inflicted a small gap in the armor of opposition to same-sex marriage but it is a gap that others can build upon.

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