Appeals Court Preserves Arizona Same-Sex Health Benefits
The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld an injunction that — for the time being at least — maintains family health coverage for gay and lesbian Arizona state employees.
The equal coverage plan was put in place in 2008 under an executive order by Governor Janet Napolitano. Arizona lawmakers decided they would eliminate health coverage for the domestic partners of lesbian and gay state employees while retaining spousal benefits for heterosexual workers as part of a drastically stiff budget deal signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2009.
Lambda Legal, representing seven lesbian and gay state employees, challenged this denial of benefits in court saying that excluding lesbian and gay state workers while maintaining coverage for heterosexual partners is discriminatory and violates Plaintiffs’ right to equal protection.
As part of that court filing, Lambda Legal also asked for an injunction preventing the partner benefits from being withdrawn until the courts have decided the issue.
The 9th Circuit issued a ruling Tuesday in favor of Plaintiffs request for an injunction, with Judge Schroeder writing for the three-member panel that ”…plaintiffs had established a likelihood of success on the merits and that they were likely to suffer irreparable harm if the injunction did not issue.”
“Today’s decision by the Ninth Circuit means Arizona’s lesbian and gay state employees will not suddenly find themselves without vital family health coverage, for as long as the decision stands,” said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli, who argued the case before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in February. “Our clients are simply seeking equal pay for equal work. We’re confident that principle will continue to prevail as the case advances.”
District Court Judge John W. Sedwick last July granted Lambda Legal’s request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily maintain domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian Arizona State employees while the case proceeded in court. The judge also denied in part a motion to dismiss the case by State’s Attorney Charles Grube, ordering that the case proceed on the merits of the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim. The State of Arizona then appealed the preliminary injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—resulting in today’s decision.
Governor Brewer’s reaction, as delivered by a spokesperson to 16 WNEP news, was that she was less than pleased with the Court’s decision:
Brewer spokesman Matt Benson said the appeals court opinion “flies in the face of logic and the law” and grants more benefits to same-sex partners than straight couples.
“In the governor’s opinion, this is a step in the wrong direction,” he said.
Benson said the governor is studying the ruling and has not yet made a decision on an appeal.
The case is Diaz (formerly Collins) v. Brewer.
Tuesday also saw lawyers in the Proposition 8 court case go before the Supreme Court of California to argue whether Prop. 8 proponents have standing under state law that could allow them to defend Proposition 8 before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Read more on that here.