A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the state of Arizona must continue to provide health care benefits to same-sex domestic partners of state workers, blocking enforcement of a 2009 law that eliminated the coverage.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a temporary block on a controversial 2009 state law that sought to strip health coverage for gay and lesbian domestic partners of Arizona employees.
In a 13-page opinion, the three-member appeals panel said such a law would go against the long-standing constitutional right to equal protection.
A New York-based legal advocacy group hailed the ruling as a major victory for same sex couples.
“Today’s decision … means Arizona’s lesbian and gay state employees will not suddenly find themselves without vital family health coverage,” said Tara Borelli, a Lambda Legal attorney who argued the case before the court.
The equal health coverage plan had been put in place in 2008 under former Gov. Janet Napolitano, now Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
But in a budget deal signed in 2009 by the current Governor, Jan Brewer, state lawmakers eliminated health coverage for the domestic partners of gay and lesbian state government employees, while retaining spousal benefits for heterosexual workers in a budget deal.
The 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.
“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 Borelli. The state set up “a legal impossibility” for gay couples, she said.
“It seems apparent that the court’s real motivation here is for the legalization of gay marriage,” said Brewer’s press aide Matthew Benson. “The governor stands with the majority of Arizonans who overwhelmingly in 2008 defined marriage as between one man and one woman.”
Benson said Brewer is studying the ruling and has not yet made a decision on an appeal.