Lambda Legal Rebuffs Arizona Attorney General: Urges Cities to Protect Unmarried Couples
(Phoenix, April 29, 2013) – Lambda Legal today issued a legal analysis documenting the ability of Bisbee and other Arizona municipalities to enact ordinances recognizing and protecting the committed family relationships of adult couples regardless of marital status, gender or sexual orientation.
“From Bisbee to Phoenix and Tempe to Tucson, municipalities clearly have the right to recognize, protect and benefit their residents by establishing a way for unmarried couples to create and record arrangements they have made regarding their personal and family relationships,” said Jennifer Pizer, Lambda Legal senior counsel and Law and Policy Project Director. “The threats from Attorney General Horne are grossly off-target because the steps Bisbee is taking to respect and protect family relationships are plainly within city power. Bisbee is being innovative but also has said emphatically that it intends only to use its municipal authority in offering new, practical protections and recognition for families. In taking this action Bisbee is sending a statewide message about the harms of discrimination in state law and the need for change.”
As detailed in a letter to Arizona Attorney Tom Horne released today, the analysis underscores that cities like Bisbee can help committed couples manage their family lives in a range of ways because everyone in Arizona has the right to make agreements about their property and their commitments to support each other, their children, and other family members. Likewise, all couples can designate each other – rather than blood or legal relatives – to act for each other in various circumstances, including medical emergencies. Cities also can adopt policies that recognize diverse families for all city purposes, such as admission fees, cemetery operations, use of city facilities, all events sponsored by the city, and all other circumstances for which a city offers preferential terms or conditions for family members. And, of course, cities may recognize diverse family relationships for purposes of family benefits offered to city employees.
In March, the City Council of Bisbee, Arizona, passed an ordinance creating novel, municipal-level legal protections for unmarried couples. In doing so, it joined dozens of municipalities nationwide, including Phoenix and Tucson, which have created mechanisms to recognize and protect the domestic partnerships of adult couples. However, shortly after the City Council vote, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne sent a letter to Bisbee officials warning that the ordinance “exceeds the municipal powers of the City’s legislative body” and might require his office “to take appropriate legal action to enforce existing State constitutional and statutory provisions.”
Subsequently, Horne invited Arizona city attorneys to attend a meeting today in his offices “to discuss how cities that wish to pass civil union ordinances can do so without violating state law, and in a way that would avoid action by this office.”
In anticipation of this meeting and the planned press conference, Lambda Legal working with officials from Bisbee and other cities, issued a legal analysis showing that Bisbee in fact did not overstep its authority and cautioning state officials not to issue overbroad restrictions on what municipalities can do to create inclusive and welcoming environments for all their residents.
“We know that creating communities where all adult couples and families, including same-sex couples and their households, feel welcome and have the same rights and opportunities as other couples is not only the right thing to do, but also good public policy,” said Bisbee City Attorney John MacKinnon. “We will continue to do what we can and are permitted to do to create such a community in Bisbee.”