Bisbee OKs same-sex civil unions, but only 4 couples say ‘I do’

Downtown Bisbee, Ariz.
(Aaron J. Latham / For The Times)

BISBEE, Ariz. - When Bisbee became the first city in Arizona to allow civil unions between same-sex couples, city and business leaders expected hundreds to rush in to register for a civil union. Instead, a bit more than a month later, only four couples have taken advantage of an ordinance that gives them similar benefits as married couples.

An estimated 100 couples had signed up to register before the ordinance took effect July 5, Bisbee Mayor Adriana Zavala Badal said.

“I don’t get it,” the mayor said.

The small artist enclave survived controversy to become the first city in the conservative state to recognize same-sex couples. State Atty. Gen. Tom Horne had initially threatened to file a lawsuit against the city until Bisbee officials changed some of the language in the ordinance to comply with state laws.


Benefits governed by the state and given to married couples remain inaccessible to people joined by civil union in Bisbee. Appointment of guardianship and conservatorships, for example, are still off-limits to same-sex couples, despite the Bisbee ordinance.

Still, a civil union certificate carries several city benefits for an unwed couple. Those include disability or compensation for the partners of city workers, land-use issues and even family discounts at the local pool. Also, partners can now give authorization as to where their loved one should be buried in the city’s cemetery.

No matter what, Kathy Sowden and Deborah Grier, both Bisbee residents, were first in line to register for a civil union July 5.

Badal said the low turnout could be because even before Bisbee’s ordinance went into effect, it was overshadowed by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. On June 26, the nation’s highest court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, clearing the way for states to allow gay marriages.

“I think the coolest thing about it is that Bisbee was the first to do it,” Sowden said.

Sowden and Grier have been together for 21 years and own an antique and collectibles shop on the town’s main drag.

They believe more couples will register in time.

“It’s Bisbee,” Grier said. “Everything is slow.”



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