After the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit prevented Arizona from implementing a law barring same-sex partners of state employees from their partners' health benefits, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has requested that the Supreme Court overturn the ruling.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Ninth Circuit's 3-0 ruling in September affirmed a federal judge's injunction against the law signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in 2009 barring domestic partners of state employees from their partners' health benefits. AZ Central reports that Brewer signed House Bill 2013 in September 2009 that overturned a 2008 executive order by her predecessor Gov. Janet Napolitano, who used her administrative powers to authorize health benefits for state employees' domestic partners.
In the unanimous ruling by the Ninth Circuit, the three-judge panel held that while the state is not obligated to provide health-care benefits, denying them to a specific group violates the equal-protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. The court also held that the state's policy affected gay and lesbian workers unfairly because they cannot marry legally under state law, unlike heterosexual partners who were also affected.
The court expressed the opinion that: "When a state chooses to provide such benefits, it may not do so in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner that adversely affects particular groups that may be unpopular."
The federal judge's injunction came after nine plaintiffs, all state employees in same-sex partnerships, said that if Brewers law was enacted it would cause the loss of health coverage for their partners and lead to "serious financial and emotional harm." The Ninth Circuit upheld the federal injunction against the law, saying there was a high likelihood of "irreparable harm" if the law was enacted.
AZ Central explains that the issue at stake is whether the state can eliminate health coverage for same-sex domestic partners of state and university employees.
According to The Huffington Post, the Ninth Circuit was of the opinion that the plaintiffs "demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, because they showed that the law adversely affected a classification of employees on the basis of sexual orientation, and did not further any of the state’s claimed justifiable interests."
But on July 2, Brewer filed a petition for a writ of certiorari requesting the Supreme Court to overturn the Ninth Circuit's September 2011 decision. According to Chris Geidner, Brewer's move came after the Ninth Circuit, in April, denied a request by state lawyers to re-hear the case.
AZ Central reports that Brewer's 2009 law would also have eliminated health coverage for several other groups including heterosexual domestic partners and adult children. The law was passed in response to the state's budget crisis.
But AZ Central notes that Arizona spends about $3 million annually on domestic-partner benefits, and that this is only a small fraction of the $625 million spent on benefits for all employees. Gay and lesbian couples represented only a small minority of the domestic partners.
Brewer, in a Monday morning media conference, said that the case is "working its way through court and the Attorney General's Office is asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to see if they will accept the case to determine. We believe in states' rights."
The attorney general's spokesman Doug Nick, said on Monday, "Because the state Constitution defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, state law echoes that, if you will. It is not allowable for same-sex partners to have benefits under state law because the state Constitution defines a spouse as someone of the opposite gender."
Geidner reports that the Department of Justice on July 3, also asked that challenges to the federal definition of marriage contained in DOMA be heard by the Supreme Court.