Same-sex couples could receive greater legal recognition if the Tucson City Council approves proposed changes to its domestic-partner registry.

The city is considering a system similar to Bisbee's, but doing it without the same legal backlash from the Arizona Attorney General's Office.

The existing registry provides couples with few tangible benefits, such as giving partners additional hospital visitation rights and recognizing partners as a family for purposes of qualifying for city services - benefits frequently enjoyed only by married couples.

But that leaves a lot of people who are in long-term, committed relationships in legal limbo, said Coucilwoman Karin Uhlich.

"It really undermines the security of a whole lot of people, especially children who are being raised in loving families who will not get Social Security survivor benefits ... and other economic-security measures that people just can't access because they can't marry," Uhlich said. "So every step we can, we'll take."

The purpose of the new proposal is to provide same-sex and other couples who can't legally marry an opportunity to record their partnership contracts with the city, giving them some extra legal recognition for whatever commitments they've made with each other.

"The intent is to make sure we do as much as we can to allow people in partnerships to have their relationship acknowledged and officially recorded as much as possible (and) be protected if anything ends up in court," Uhlich said. "It allows people to register their civil union with the city and to indicate what agreements they have made as a part of that union. ... It's a way for couples to record their agreements so that if somebody swoops in and contests a relationship, there's that official documentation."

A second purpose is to encourage people to create contracts regarding shared properties, guardianship issues and more, and register them.

Some people hold the perception that entering into a civil union in and of itself grants each partner certain benefits, but that's not true, said City Attorney Mike Rankin.

"Just getting a civil union isn't enough to establish property rights or other rights," Rankin said. "An additional contract is required."

Rankin said the new ordinance would serve as an educational tool so more people are aware of exactly what's required to establish legal standing.

Last month, Bisbee attempted to pass an ordinance to give same-sex couples rights similar to married couples. But Attorney General Tom Horne threatened to sue over possible conflicts with a 2008 constitutional amendment defining a valid marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

At issue was language in the proposed Bisbee ordinance defining same-sex couples living within the city as spouses and granting them property inheritance and other rights currently reserved for heterosexual couples only.

Rankin met with Horne and other city attorneys to discuss what language may or may not run afoul of state law.

As long as the city doesn't offer any type of union or contract that automatically confers the same rights as marriage, the city should be on solid legal ground, Rankin said.

Uhlich said the law will also challenge the state's concept of property rights and encourage state leaders to consider expanding who qualifies for certain rights when it comes to marriage and domestic partnerships.

Tucson was the first city in Arizona to set up a domestic-partner registry.

Even though the city is considering making changes, the qualifications for participating will most likely remain.

It would not be limited to same-sex partners. Opposite-sex couples could register and qualify for the benefits, as could those living outside the city.

To be eligible for the registry, partners could not be blood relatives who would be precluded from marrying, and both would have to be unmarried, over 18, share the same residence and declare that they are each other's sole domestic partner.

Since Dec. 1, 2003, the city has issued 1,268 domestic-partnership certificates. The current fee for filing is $50.

The council is tentatively scheduled to discuss the new ordinance at its May 29 study session.

Bisbee council moves ahead on civil unions

The Bisbee City Council on Tuesday night moved ahead with a revised version of an ordinance that would legalize civil unions for same-sex couples. A vote to formally approve the scaled-back version of the ordinance will take place on June 4. See today for updates on this story.

The Associated Press

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or