The Tucson City Council has strengthened its nearly decade-old domestic-partner registry, giving couples who can't marry a place to record any contracts they've agreed to as well as broader legal recognition of their relationship.
The 6-0 decision Tuesday night, with Councilwoman Regina Romero absent, adds tangible benefits to the domestic-partner ordinance passed in 2003.
Under the revised ordinances, couples can file contracts regarding inheritance rights, power of attorney, living wills as well as the ability to resolve disputes if the couple breaks up.
Local activists cheered the "very loud statement" made by the council.
"This is a definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to reinforcing nondiscrimination practices in Tucson," said Carol Grimsby, the executive director of Wingspan, a nonprofit organization that supports LGBT individuals and issues.
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said the enhanced ordinance will give same-sex couples some of the same rights that married, heterosexual couples enjoy.
The city was the first in the state to pass a domestic-partner registry in 2003.
"It's unfortunate that same-sex couples have to jump through so many hoops for rights that married couples enjoy just by saying the words, 'I do,' but I believe the tide is turning on this issue, and that most people in Arizona support marriage equality," he said. "I hope the day comes soon when marriage equality is the law of the land."
City Attorney Mike Rankin has said as long as the city doesn't offer rights reserved for married couples, the measure should not violate state law.
Since the city enacted its original registry, more than 1,200 domestic-partnership certificates have been issued.
The action on Tuesday follows the Bisbee City Council's vote earlier this month on an ordinance recognizing civil unions between same-sex couples and allowing them to file contracts spelling out their agreements on matters such as inheritances, property ownership and children .
This week, a statewide group pulled papers to amend the state constitution to recognize marriage between any "two persons." If approved, the amendment would nullify a 2008 voter-approved amendment saying marriage is limited to "one man and one woman."
Backers need 259,213 valid signatures by next summer to qualify for the general election ballot.