Opponents says program would cost too much
PHOENIX — A month after voters passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the Phoenix City Council this week will decide whether to create a program allowing unmarried gay or straight couples who live together hospital visitation rights.
If approved, Phoenix would become the second city in Arizona to offer its residents a domestic-partner registry. Tucson launched a similar program in 2003.
Phoenix attorney Brendan Mahoney has lived with his partner for 14 years. He said disputes between a patient’s immediate family and domestic partner over hospital-visitation rights are all too common.
On numerous occasions, gay friends have reached out to Mahoney for legal advice when they have been prevented by their partner’s family from seeing their loved one in the hospital.
"Usually, it happens when the patient is unconscious. A lot of those are very real situations," Mahoney said.
"I don’t know how many times I get those phone calls. And I don’t know how many times I have to tell people there is nothing you can do."
Registry backers say the proposal’s timing is purely coincidental with the vote on Proposition 102 and isn’t intended to make a political statement.
They point out the city has been working on the registry with Phoenix hospitals for the past five years and that it’s critical to move forward now to give tens of thousands of Phoenix domestic partners the same rights that family members have when visiting sick loved ones.
"It boils down to a basic human right, and as we enter this holiday season, the issue is even more pronounced," said Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot.
"If you are sick or injured and lying in a hospital bed, you should have the right to have your significant other at your bedside," Simplot said.
Critics ask why a public agency needs to inject itself into what they consider a private matter.
State Sen. Linda Gray, a Phoenix Republican, says domestic partners seeking hospital visitation and other rights should turn to private counsel for assistance, not a city program.
Gray also fears public tax dollars would be used to support the registry, saying the $50 administrative registration fee would not cover the program’s costs.
Lionel Lyons, head of Phoenix’s Equal Opportunity Department, said the city has carefully reviewed the cost.
"The registry is expected to pay for itself and will not require any taxpayer dollars," Lyons said.