Guest Commentary

The interest of some Arizona politicians in Bisbee's civil union law is peculiar

When Arizona was admitted to the Union a century ago, the copper mining metropolis of Bisbee was the state's third-most-populous city. It remained a center of economic and political power for the first six decades of statehood.

Everything is different now. The mine closed long ago and copper is no longer the backbone of Arizona's economy. Bisbee held on as a community by embracing an influx of bikers, bohemians, hippies and other nonconformists of all stripes. It is now a colorful town of less than 7,000 people that is largely forgotten by the powers that be in Arizona.

That changed last week when the Bisbee City Council did something to earn the notice of people who rarely acknowledge that Arizona extends south of Baseline Road. As has been extensively reported, the council voted to recognize same-sex civil unions. Though the move seems to have solid public support, it inspired spirited debate in the community. Its most prominent opponents, however, have come from far away, namely Cathi Herrod of the Phoenix-based Center for Arizona Policy and state Attorney General Tom Horne, a resident of Paradise Valley.

By the time this sees print, Horne may well have made good on a threat to sue the city of Bisbee over this. Horne's stated reason for pursuing this is that the local legislators, all from Sierra Vista, wrote to him to express their concerns. This is vaguely reminiscent of a colleague of mine when I was at the Legislature who once told me that he had to push a certain bill because his constituents in Green Valley were always complaining about the Tucson City Council. It seemed to me that what our council was doing was really none of their business, and a better response would have been to simply shrug and say something like "Oh, those crazy liberals in Tucson. What will they do next?"

Maybe these legislators did hear complaints from Bisbee residents who were not happy about the vote. Perhaps there would be cause for the state to intervene if there was some corruption or civil rights violation, but this is not the case here. Ending up on the losing side of an issue every once in a while is part of the cost of living in a democracy.

Oddly enough, Herrod and Horne's allies among conservative Republicans in the Legislature have blocked efforts to intervene in Colorado City, a notoriously crooked town run by a criminal enterprise. It is funny how selective some people's outrage can be.

It would be welcome if folks at the Capitol were to look at Bisbee to see what they could do to make sure that such towns have the resources to address issues of economic development and to keep their streets paved. Even though these things are well within the purview of the Legislature, they are hardly a priority for our state's leadership. Instead, we get this needless meddling in local affairs.

In 2008, during the debate in the Legislature over what became the constitutional amendment that is the subject of this argument, one supporter rose to say that the bill was necessary to prevent future legislators from making same-sex marriage legal. In other words, this was about making sure that others, not only people whom we did not know, but people who did not even yet exist, conformed to our values. Enforcing conformity seems to be what is behind much of what comes out of the Capitol, including the persistent attacks on Tucson. A leadership dominated by the suburbs that surround Phoenix simply cannot tolerate the idea that other communities are different.

If they succeed, it would be tragic. Towns like Gilbert and Glendale may well be nice places to live, but they never get written up in national magazines or featured on cable shows. Nor would tourists flock to Arizona to see strip malls and tract homes. By attacking Bisbee, Herrod and Horne seek to impose a rigid sameness across the state.

The chest-thumping from Arizona's political leadership about freedom rings a bit hollow when it becomes clear that they have little respect for the freedom of folks in communities that look different than their own. It makes it clear that they have a very narrow concept of who Arizonans are. Herrod and Horne should stay where they are comfortable, in suburban Maricopa County, and just leave Bisbee and the rest of us alone.

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