Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Good News from AZ

In Arizona, in 2009 they passed a bill that redefined "dependents" of state employees as "spouses", with the intent that same-sex partners of state employees would no longer be eligible for health benefits.  Several plaintiffs took the state to  court (federal court).  When the district court found for the plaintiffs, Arizona appealed, and the case went to the 9th circuit, who have now released a ruling that keeps the law from going into effect, at least for now.

While the district court noted that Section O was not dis- criminatory on its face, because it affected both same-sex and different-sex couples, the court held that Section O had a dis- criminatory effect. This is because, under Arizona law, different-sex couples could retain their health coverage by marrying, but same-sex couples could not. Id. at 802-03. Therefore, the district court granted plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction on equal protection grounds.
The decision carefully reviews all the arguments that were made supporting rational state interest in this law. Interestingly, despite claiming that it was a cost-cutting measure, the state did not provide any figures to back that up, while the plaintiffs showed that the expense was marginal.

There are some additional excellent quotes from the ruling:
The state is correct in asserting that state employ- ees and their families are not constitutionally entitled to health benefits. But 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 state has also argued that the statute promotes mar- riage by eliminating benefits for domestic partners, but the plaintiffs negated that as a justification. The district court properly concluded that the denial of benefits to same-sex domestic partners cannot promote marriage, since such part- ners are ineligible to marry. Collins, 727 F. Supp. 2d at 807....
In sum, the district court correctly recognized that bar- ring the state of Arizona from discriminating against same-sex couples in its distribution of employee health benefits does not constitute the recognition of a new constitutional right to such benefits. Rather, it is consistent with long standing equal protection jurisprudence holding that “some objectives, such as ‘a bare . . . desire to harm a politically unpopular group,’ are not legitimate state interests.”.....

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