Federal Judge Blocks Cancellation of AZ State Employees’ Domestic Partner Benefits
July 26, 2010
The following post comes from Ryan Fournier, an HRC Law Fellow: On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick blocked implementation of a law that would have eliminated domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees of the State of Arizona. He also denied the state’s motion to dismiss the case challenging the law as a violation of the U.S. Constitution, allowing the suit to proceed in federal court. Friday’s decision is part of a lawsuit challenging a budget provision passed by the Arizona legislature in September 2009 that eliminated state workers’ domestic partner medical benefits. While Arizona has a state constitutional ban on marriage for same-sex couples, Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of a number of Arizona state employees and their families arguing that this new law denies them equal protection of the laws. The case is called Collins v. Brewer. In his opinion, Judge Sedwick noted that the September law conditions employee benefits “on terms that are a legal impossibility for gay and lesbian couples.” The judge noted that the law would deny individuals in a qualifying domestic partnership a valuable form of compensation. Judge Sedgwick was unconvinced by the arguments presented by the Arizona State’s Attorney, including that providing health care for individuals in a domestic partnership would raise health care costs for all. In his opinion, he highlighted evidence presented that “the cost of providing benefits to partners of gay and lesbian workers is no more than 0.27 percent of total health care spending by the state.” For now, the injunction will preserve domestic partner benefits for the some 800 state and university employees who currently receive them and the case will proceed forward at the trial court.