Bisbee, Arizona To Begin Issuing Civil Union Licenses Because They Can

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Bisbee’s location in Southern Arizona

A tiny town on the southern border of Arizona has decided to grant civil unions to same-sex couples. The local city council of Bisbee has collectively stopped agreeing with Arizona’s notoriously conservative political climate, and declared that they’re going to start making their own rules about civil unions.

Arizona has a state law banning same-sex marriage, but the law only uses the word marriage, and this is the loophole Bisbee is hoping to exploit. City Councilman Ken Budge said, “While gay marriage is banned in Arizona, there’s no laws on the books in Arizona about civil unions.” Bisbee is attempting to navigate around the law at the state level by using different words for the same thing.

Downtown Bisbee, Arizona

Downtown Bisbee, Arizona

Bisbee is a small town with a population of around 6,000 residents. Originally founded as a mining town, it is now a thriving artistic community billed as a “quirky” mountain town, perfect for retirees. Basically, a whole lot of hippies and artists moved there in the 1970s and things have been awesome ever since. Also, this place is gorgeous.

“I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t think of it earlier. To me it’s a civil rights issue,” Mayor Adriana Badal said. She also said that the civil unions law will be more of a symbolic statement than anything else, with the ability to only enforce the law within the city limits.

Mark Handley and his boyfriend, Hywel Logan, own a local toy shop in Bisbee.

Mark Handley and his boyfriend, Hywel Logan, own a local toy shop in Bisbee.
via {Fronteras Desk}

Local resident Mark Handley, who owns a downtown toy shop with his partner of over ten years, said, “There’s sort of a limited amount that the city can do. It’s as much as they can do and it’s only in the Bisbee city limits. But it’s something.” He and his partner have already signed up for the $76 civil union certificate. When passed, the law will go into effect on May 2nd.

Bisbee’s civil unions will allow same-sex couples to register as partners to receive benefits, and at a basic level,

couples who sign into a union will be considered family members. Hospital visits, benefits for partners of Bisbee city employees and some property ownership rights, even family passes at the city pool, would all be a lot easier under this ordinance.

Bisbee’s local Episcopal church has agreed to perform the civil union ceremonies.

This is a move reminiscent of San Francisco circa 2004, when Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Struck by the homophobic remarks in Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address (the one where Bush declared America should outlaw same-sex marriage with a constitutional amendment), Mayor Newsom set the wheels in motion to allow San Francisco’s city clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This lasted from February 12 to March 11 before being halted by the California Supreme Court. All of the 4,000 distributed licenses were voided in an August 2004 court decision. These nullified marriages led to the 2008 “In re Marriage Cases” ruling by the California Supreme Court, where the California Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage before Prop 8 came and ruined everything.

Perhaps Bisbee won’t get the same kind of reaction from Arizona, due to the stark contrast between 2004 San Francisco and 2013 Bisbee, but it does remind us that civil disobedience has a long history with our community and with the issue of marriage in particular. San Francisco’s decision to circumvent Californian law set a lot of wheels in motion for longterm marriage equality not only in California, but nationwide with the Prop 8 and DOMA Supreme Court trials. Civil disobedience works for our community because we’re already disobeying laws just by being ourselves — queer couples have already been marrying each other (if not officially) long before marriage was legal anywhere, and loving each other when sodomy laws were still on the books (and in the places where those laws still exist). It works for our community to defy those laws in the process of changing them. Bisbee, Arizona has recognized that it’s time for a change, and it seems only appropriate for that change to be as queer as our community.

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Hansen is the former DIY & Food Editor of and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She teaches creative writing at Colorado State University and is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in her free time.

Hansen has written 189 articles for us.


  1. This is kinda awesome. It seems like the Southwest has been in the news a lot lately about queer things. Makes me that much more excited to be moving to New Mexico with my girlfriend in a couple months!

  2. I’ve been living in Phoenix for the last year and I’ve definitely noticed the lack of support for the queer community. I’m terrified of being out at work because it’s legal for me to be fired in this state due to my sexual orientation. My boss also doesn’t know that I’m a Democrat and has mentioned during meetings many times that he would feel betrayed and uncomfortable if he discovered he had hired a Democrat. I’ve noticed that the smaller mountain towns (Prescott is an example to the North and this town is an example to the South) tend to be more liberal which is ironic considering that most places the cities are the more liberal places and the small towns are the more conservative. I am glad to be moving back home to Chicago soon where I know that I am accepted a lot more but it sucks for the people stuck in Arizona (like teenagers) who are being taught to hate themselves essentially. I’m proud of this town and it’s exciting to see that some people in Arizona want change but I’ve learned from living in Phoenix (the largest city in the state and the state capital) that a lot of the people in Arizona don’t want this change and that scares me.

    • I know that Phoenix has the most people in it, but it far from defines our state. As a native Tucsonan, I can say confidently that there are so many open-minded, wonderful and progressive people who live here. I’m so sorry that you’ve had any negative experience at all in Arizona. Believe me, most of the time all the cool/crazy/wonderful people I know are embarrassed by things that the majority are doing in our name.

      • Yeah I totally agree with Tucson (as well as Tempe and Flagstaff, from what I’ve experienced) being more liberal and open-minded. I think part of that comes with the presence of the universities and the types of people that tends to attract. I have to say, the only truly good experiences that I have had in Arizona have been when I have been traveling outside of Phoenix because Phoenix is a hub of crazy conservatives who have looked down on me simply because I’m 18 and don’t have a ring on my finger yet (true story, I’ve been asked why I’m not engaged yet more times than any 18 year old should have to endure). I’ve also been told that going to an arts college (where I am going to be attending next year) is a waste because there’s no way I’m going to find any straight guys there and after all, “the only reason girls even go to college now-a-days is to find a husband” more times than I can count. While I have found a few Phoenicians that I like and that are open-minded, I have such a hard time considering this place home because of what I’ve experienced. I know there are plenty of people in Phoenix that are open minded liberals but they are definitely the minority and I have met very few despite going out of my way.

        • Also, did you know that there is an AS group in Phoenix? You should get all up in that.

          • Yeah, I tried but it’s almost all bar stuff (since that’s what a lot of Phoenix is) and I’m 18 and they don’t seem to be super active but I have met people in other places. The friends I’ve met haven’t been miserable anti-gay Christians but everyone else has been.

      • As someone who grew up in Phoenix, but has lived in tucson for 4 years now because of school, I definitely have seen a difference. If any change comes to Arizona, it will come from outside of the Phoenix area.

  3. Given that Arizona has failed in a whole lot of ways to be decent human beings in the past few years, I am really damn proud of this. I love Arizona, and I want them to do nice things!

  4. I was traveling with a show once and they snuck me in to a bar in Bisbee when I was 18. That place rules.

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