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Bisbee constituents largely silent on civil unions

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. -- The Bisbee City Council hasn't heard much from the public as the artist's haven and tourist destination prepares to vote on an ordinance that could make it the first Arizona city to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

If approved Tuesday, the ordinance would give same-sex partners in civil unions the same rights in the city as married couples. The proposed ordinance drew unanimous support from the council on March 19 on an initial vote.

City Attorney John MacKinnon has said that approval would mean that two people in a civil union would be considered spouses in such matters as property ownership, guardianship in cases of illness, and disposition of remains upon death.

Bisbee is the seat of mostly rural Cochise County in southeastern Arizona. The former mining community has an estimated population of 5,600.

Councilman David Smith said most of the people who've spoken with him about the proposal support it.

``We have had a few emails come through, though I don't know if they are from residents or not. One said we were all going to turn into pillars of salt if we approve the ordinance,'' Smith said.

Councilwoman Shirley Doughty said some religious-minded constituents may be silent because the proposal doesn't directly involve marriage.

``I'm surprised that my constituents have not contacted me about this issue. It's seems to me to be very unusual,'' Doughty told the Sierra Vista Herald.

``This is a case where you cannot please everybody,'' Doughty said. ``I don't know what I am going to do. But, I guess if the deep-down church-goers don't have a problem with it then I shouldn't.''

The Bisbee ordinance states that the city ``supports the right of every person to enter into a lasting and meaningful relationship with the partner of his or her choice, regardless of the particular sexual orientation of that partnership.''

The Arizona Constitution has a provision added by voters in 2008 to prohibit same-sex marriage. But voters in 2006 rejected a broader version that would have barred the state and local governments from creating or recognizing ``a legal status for unmarried persons that is similar to marriage.''

If the ordinance is approved, same-sex couples could go to City Hall and get a form indicating they want to enter into a civil union. The city clerk would then issue the couple a certificate of the civil union.

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