Mar 22, 2013 7:36 AM by Nathan O'Neal
BISBEE - Residents of this small mining town embrace the possibility of becoming the first city in Arizona to allow 'civil unions' for couples, regardless of sexual orientation.
The Bisbee City Council scaled a hurdle this week in hopes of adopting a city ordinance to allow for civil unions. It had overwhelming support as it was approved by the council unanimously. It now faces a second reading on April 2. City leaders expect it to pass easily.
While it's not official yet, there's no doubt that this would be a huge step.
The move comes at a critical time, as the Supreme Court is set to take up the issue of same-sex marriages.
Jim Varner has lived in Bisbee for about 30 years. A gay Republican himself, he appreciates the moves the city took.
"[Bisbee's] always been accepting. It's always been open to the people who came here," Varner told News 4 Tucson.
He runs his own antique shop now in the historic district of the city. He is overwhelmed at the possibility of allowing civil unions.
"Relief," Varner describes the feeling as, adding: "It's a civil rights issue I believe for everybody involved."
In a city with a strong base in the LGBT community, the ordinance has overwhelming support.
"It was just a matter of time that we do this, I'm surprised it hadn't been done before," said Bisbee Mayor Adriana Badal.
The move would allow couples, regardless of sexual orientation, to file for a civil union. However, city leaders acknowledge that it's still something that won't be recognized by the state.
"Once somebody drives outside the city limits of Bisbee, the union is only going to be recognized in Bisbee," said Bisbe Councilmember Gene Conners, who spearheaded the ordinance. "But it's a start, it's a start."
That's something many residents living in Bisbee hope serves as a catalyst for change.
"I'm going to be writing a letter to all the other mayors in all the other Arizona cities and towns, and I'm going to encourage them to do the same thing that we did," Badal said.
As for Varner, he said he's waited long enough for this.
"If we were to get this issue off the mat, we could move forward and deal with the more important issues," Varner said.