After spending the last year focusing on fighting federal immigration law and health care reform, attorneys for Arizona Republican Gov. Jan Brewer return to federal court today to defend their war against the state's gay and lesbian employees and their families.
The State of Arizona is defending its September 2009 revocation of health insurance coverage for same-sex domestic partners before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Lambda Legal represents ten state employees and is suing the state, reports The Arizona Republic.
[The] lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 state employees in November 2009 argued that the law discriminates against gay and lesbians. In July, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick agreed and temporarily prevented the benefit cut for same-sex couples, saying the law violated the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection clause by making it impossible for homosexuals to get health coverage for their partners.
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.
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, a New York-based advocacy group that filed the lawsuit. "The state has set up a legal impossibility for gay couples," said Borelli, who will argue the case today.
Lambda Legal adds via press release:
Lambda Legal represents ten state employees - including from Arizona's Highway Patrol Division, Game and Fish Department, and state universities - who rely on health benefits from their employers to safeguard their families' health, as heterosexual workers do. Arizona lawmakers included a provision eliminating family health coverage for gay state employees as part of a last-minute budget deal signed by Governor Janice Brewer in 2009, while retaining family health coverage for heterosexual workers. ...
Plaintiff Deanna Pfleger, an officer with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, attended the hearing with partner Mia LaBarbara. "My job regularly puts me in danger, but taking away our health benefits would jeopardize my family," said Pfleger. "Mia depends on the benefits we receive through my job. We have the same need for family health coverage as my heterosexual colleagues, and this, in effect, docks my pay in comparison to them."
The same-sex domestic partner benefits were originally cut as part of a "cost-saving" measure. Arizona spends $625 million a year on employee benefits, of which roughly only $3 million went to benefits for all domestic partners.
An idea to save money: Why not keep the benefits and end the expensive, year and a half federal litigation process? And stop suing the federal government on health care and immigration, too. That is, if the state really wants to "save" money.
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Arizona Revokes DP Benefits for State Employees