Arizona set to defend cutting benefits for partners of same-sex couples


Attorneys representing the State of Arizona are due to appear before a three judge panel of the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif., today to defend a decision by the Arizona legislature that stripped partners of same-sex couples, domestic partners and their children from receiving state worker’s benefits.

In 2009, Governor Jan Brewer signed budget legislation that included a measure — referred to as Section O — to prohibit gay state employees from signing up their domestic partners for health coverage, as they had been allowed to do under former Governor Janet Napolitano.

A lawsuit filed by Lambda legal on behalf of 10 state workers in November 2009 argued that the law discriminated against gay and lesbian couples, because under Arizona law they’re unable to legally marry.

That law was due to go into effect on January 1 of this year, but last July, U. S. District Court Judge John Sedwick issued a temporary junction against the benefit cuts, ruling that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause by making it impossible for same-sex couples to get health coverage.

“The state can’t require employees to be married in order to qualify for family benefits when Arizona offers no legal unions for same-sex couples, said Tara Borelli, an attorney with Lambda Legal.

“The state has set up a legal impossibility for gay couples,” she said.

Borelli will deliver the arguments for the plaintiff’s case before the appellate panel today.

On Sunday, The Arizona Republic reported that more than 600 state workers lost health-care coverage for their heterosexual partners on Jan. 1. The law also cut benefits for adult children, but federal health-care reform required the state to offer insurance to dependent children up to age 26.

Benefits to 480 same-sex partners and about 60 children would be cut off if the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifts the injunction. Arizona spends $625 million a year on employee benefits, of which roughly $5 million went to benefits for all domestic partners.

[sc name=”mark-s”]

This Story Filed Under