Arizona Attorney General

Mark Brnovich



Bisbee - What Really Happened

Bisbee passed an ordinance which would have changed state laws within its city limits. It would have given members of civil unions the same rights as married couples under state statutes pertaining to community property, inheritance, appointment of administrators, etc.  

This was beyond the powers of the Bisbee City Council. City councils have jurisdiction only over local matters. Statutes passed by the legislature apply statewide, and city councils do not have the power to change those statutes within city limits.  

Also, one of my concerns was that people might be misled. If they relied on the civil union to accomplish inheritance, income sharing, etc., individuals might neglect to take the private action (wills, contracts) that was available to them. (If someone died, the other person would expect to inherit because of the civil union.) The case would go to Superior Court, which would apply state law, not Bisbee law. The person would not inherit.  Had a will been executed, inheritance could have occurred.  

As a result, I indicated that if the Bisbee City Council attempted to implement the ordinance, legal action would be necessary because that would exceed the powers of the City Council.  

On the other hand, there were civil union ordinances in other cities, such as Phoenix and Tucson that created registries to facilitate hospital visitation. No laws were violated, and which were no problem.  

After I brought up the possibility of legal action, Bisbee suspended the operation of its ordinance to consider revisions. I met with their attorney and attorneys for eleven other cities to talk about what was permissible to do, and what was not permissible to do, under Arizona law. Bisbee agreed not to change any state laws within its jurisdiction. Rather, it would notify people of the private actions they could take, such as contracts and wills, and keep a record of those private actions. There would be no violation of state law. In conclusion, this was a vindication of the position taken by the Attorney General’s Office.