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Apr 29, 2013 9:26 PM by Nathan O'Neal

AZ Attorney General discusses legality of civil unions with city attorneys

PHOENIX - Arizona city attorneys met Monday afternoon with Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne to discuss the legality of civil unions.

The topic comes at a time when Horne previously threatened to sue the City of Bisbee for its recently adopted civil union ordinance.

Lasting about an hour, 12 attorneys from across the state met to explore how cities can legally implement civil unions without stepping on the toes of state law. Cities represented included Bisbee, Tucson and Marana.

"This is not marriage," Horne said following the meeting. "This is simply a way of publicly recording and acknowledging that people have entered into private agreements that they have a right to enter into right now."

Insisting that Bisbee's example of civil unions is a matter of "symbolic rather than substantive significance", Horne expressed his concerns over the language the ordinance contains.

Jennifer Pizer, an attorney with Lambda Legal, has consulted for Bisbee in the unchartered legal technicalities of civil unions in Arizona.

"There's an open area here in state law and there's some room in municipal law to provide different kinds of protections for diverse families," Pizer told News 4 Tucson.

One of the issues Horne brought up included portions of Bisbee's ordinance that addresses rights that fall under the state's discretion already, including some property rights.

However, Bisbee leaders insist that the intent was to extend rights only so far as the city is allowed.

"Cities can do some things and we have already seen in a number of cities including Phoenix, Tucson and some others cities and some counties that some protections have been provided for domestic partners," Pizer said.

The room full of lawyers ultimately reached an "agreement based on principle" that Bisbee's actions only seek to formalized the rights folks already are entitled to.

Horne said that the AG's office would not seek legal action, assuming that The City of Bisbee makes the proper adjustments to the language of the ordinance-- something the city has agreed to do.

Other Arizona cities, including Tempe, have already expressed their interest in adopting similar laws.

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