Ariz. Appeals Court Upholds Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

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An appeals court in Arizona has ruled that the state must continue to provide health-care benefits to state-employed same-sex couples.

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state must provide more evidence to prove that providing health coverage to same-sex couples would be detrimental to the interests of the state.

“In sum, the district court correctly recognized that barring 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,” Judge Mary Schroeder wrote in her decision. “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.”

The decision was praised by supports of gay and lesbian rights, who believe the state must provide equal coverage to all.

“Today's decision … means Arizona's lesbian and gay state employees will not suddenly find themselves without vital family health coverage,” said Tara Borelli, a Lambda Legal attorney who argued the case before the court, told Reuters.

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The controversy began in 2009 when Gov. Jan Brewer signed House Bill 2013 overturning a 2008 executive order by former Gov. Janet Napolitano which provided coverage to same-sex couples.

Officials in Brewer’s administration were not happy with the ruling, saying the panel of judges had an ulterior motive.

“The federal court has created this inequality by preventing the termination of same-sex benefits but allowing the elimination of benefits for straight couples,” Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson told The Arizona Republic. “When you read the ruling, the court's real motivation seems to be for the legalization of gay marriage.”