Tucson is now the second city in the state to offer same sex couples some of the same rights as married ones. The city's Civil Union ordinance took effect Friday after city councilors unanimously passed the measure 30 days ago. As of Friday afternoon, just two couples came to City Hall to fill out the Civil Union Registration Statement.
The Civil Union ordinance replaces Tucson's 2003 Domestic Partnership ordinance, which granted couples rights like hospital visitations. According to the city, 1,125 Tucson couples are listed in the Domestic Partnership registry. Those couples are now automatically added to the Civil Union registry, and granted expanded rights, like guardianship and property rights, as well as rights pertaining to inheritance and partner benefits.
Jeri Wells and Stefanee Taylor-Wells, a couple of six years, say they were married in New York state in 2011 but visited City Hall today to get their relationship recognized under Tucson's Civil Union ordinance. Their marriage isn't recognized in Arizona, so they got the certificate to ensure they have more rights as a couple.
"We may be your banker, we may be your X-ray tech, you know we may be doing anything for you on a daily basis," Wells said when asked why this recognition is important. "But people understanding that we are here and we truly are in committed relationships is important to us."
Ward 3 city council member Karin Uhlich says the ordinance is a testament to Tucson's progressive nature. Uhlich says there has been minimal backlash but, "there will be many religious denominations and different congregations who will not and this is fine in keeping with religion," Uhlich said. "But in terms of government sanctioning of relationships, I do think that will be available to all of us very soon."
Gay rights activists say ordinances like Tucson's Civil Union one are signs of progress. Today, a group that was here to talk about marriage equality did not know today was also the day the city's Civil Union ordinance took effect.
Members of "HERO" or Human Rights and Equality for All People walked through Tucson in the mid-afternoon heat today to raise awareness.
"The purpose is to be dramatic," said the group's organizer Meg Snead. "We basically think it is really dramatic to deny people rights based on who they are, who they love."
Four "HERO" members think walking 101 miles during one of Arizona's hottest months is dramatic, too and that is the point. The group is on a ten day, equality walk through all 18 Arizona counties.
"We tend to get a pretty positive reaction and people are open to having that conversation," Snead said. "A lot of people in Arizona tell us they've never met a gay or lesbian person but they are willing to having that conversation and hear that story."
The group says in the six years they've been doing this, they have seen change and today, Snead and her partner Kelly Dupps, spontaneously decided to walk into Tucson's City Hall and take advantage of the change taking place here.
After the paperwork, the two hugged, kissed and cried, even though they say the certificate is mostly symbolic.
"I'm a crier, but this is a profound moment," Dupps said. "We are able to state that we want to share our lives together and we want to be on the building blocks of our community. This is a first step."
The group says they have a ways to go figuratively and literally. Over a ten day period, they will walk 101 miles for the number of years our state has not had equal marriage rights, hoping more change is somewhere near.
For more on Tucson's Civil Union Ordinance, click the following link: http://cms3.tucsonaz.gov/civil-unions
For more on "HERO," click the following link: http://www.herophoenix.org/