It's a quirky mountain village in Arizona’s southeastern corner, a short drive from the Mexican border. Locals and tourists alike mingle outside the post office, where a group of men sit in the parking lot tapping out a fast rhythm on bongo drums.
Bisbee started off as a mining company town more than a century ago. It’s also an ex-pat town with strong ties to California’s liberal San Francisco.
Some of its elected officials say they are tired of Arizona’s conservative legislature and on Tuesday night, its city council plans to vote in an ordinance approving civil unions for gay couples. It’ll become the first Arizona city to do so.
"I’m almost ashamed that I didn’t think of it earlier. To me it’s a civil rights issue," Mayor Adriana Badal said.
Badal says it’s a statement, particularly now as Arizona lawmakers consider legislation against local discrimination laws placed on Arizona businesses. The vote in this town also comes as the United States Supreme Court considers two cases dealing with gay marriage.
City Councilman Ken Budge favors the resolution; he says Bisbee is simply moving along with how polls show the rest of the country feels on the matter.
"That’s why I say, the trend as the younger come up, they’re not worried about so much of the stereotypes, everybody’s just everybody and I think that’s a good thing," he said.
The city council’s proposed ordinance is designed to circumvent Arizona’s constitutional law which defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.
"While gay marriage is banned in Arizona, there’s no laws on the books in Arizona about civil unions,” he said.
Mark Handley and his boyfriend run the Teeny Tiny Toy Store on Main Street. They’ve been together more than ten years. They plan to get symbolically married in Bisbee later this spring and were among the first couples to sign up for the $76 civil union certificate if the ordinance passes and takes effect May 2.
Handley says he recognizes that gay civil unions in Bisbee are largely symbolic.
"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," Handley said.
A union would give gay couples some of the rights that married couples already have and more rights than some of the domestic partnership rules that exist in cities like Phoenix or Tucson. In short, 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.
The local Episcopal church has agreed to host gay union ceremonies.
The upcoming vote will have dissenters, but Bisbee’s mayor feels sure the ordinance will pass with the minimum required four votes.