Arizona Blocked from Nixing Domestic Partner Benefits

A federal judge has blocked Arizona from enforcing a law denying domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian state employees. U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick issued a preliminary injunction requiring the state to provide family health insurance to gay and lesbian state employees with established relationships.

Last September, lawmakers approved legislation to eliminate health benefits to the spouses of both gay and straight domestic partners. House Bill 2013, which was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, amended the definition of “dependent” to apply to a child or “spouse under the laws of this state,” preventing domestic partners from receiving benefits. This especially impacts gay couples since they cannot marry in Arizona. The drop in benefits to domestic partners would hit about 800 state employees.

In the case, Lambda Legal represents 10 state employees who rely on their employers to provide health benefits to their families. Lawyers representing the state argued that the legislation was necessary in order to cut deficit. They also claim that the elimination of benefits isn’t harmful to gay and lesbian employees, since they can still obtain private insurance. Sedwick rejected this claim, pointing out that it’s unequal to allow some employees full access to the State’s health plan, while forcing other employees to go elsewhere for health insurance.

Sedwick disagrees with the approach of placing the burden of the deficit on gay workers. In one section of his 33-page decision, he wrote: “Contrary to the state’s suggestion, it is not equitable to lay the burden of the state budgetary shortfall on homosexual employees, any more than on any other distinct class, such as employees with green eyes or red hair.”

Well put, Sedwick. Denying benefits to gay and lesbian people is not a reasonable way to save money. Gay and lesbian employees should get the same benefits as straight employees. The argument that the legislation isn’t discrimination because it impacts straight domestic partners also is ridiculous. The law prevents gay domestic partners from getting married, placing an unfair burden on gay couples who would be married if the law permitted it.

Sedwick made a fair decision, preventing Arizona’s attempt to blatantly discriminate against its gay and lesbian employees.

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