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High Court Denies Appeal on Ariz. Benefits Ban

By Trudy Ring

After yesterday’s big news, there’s still more to celebrate courtesy of the Supreme Court, including a move that will enable Arizona state employees to continue receiving benefits for their domestic partners and dependents, at least for a while.

The court today declined to hear Brewer v. Diaz, Arizona’s appeal of a preliminary injunction keeping a voter-approved ban on such benefits from going into effect. The 2008 ballot initiative repealed an executive order issued earlier that year by then-governor Janet Napolitano that granted domestic-partner benefits. A suit to block the ban was filed before it could go into effect, and a U.S. district court issued an injunction to allow the benefits to continue while the case made it through the courts. An appeals court upheld the injunction, and it will now stay in place as the case goes on.

“We’re thrilled that gay and lesbian state employees can rest assured that family health coverage will be secured during the duration of the case,” attorney Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal, which is representing the employees, told The Arizona Republic today.

The current Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, issued a statement expressing disappointment with the Supreme Court’s action. “With its decision today, the Supreme Court has not only upheld the preliminary injunction of an economically-prudent, practical state law,” she said. “It has also undercut the ability of duly elected state officials to make decisions critical to managing the state budget.” She said the denial of domestic-partner benefits “was driven by financial necessity rather than a social agenda” and was not discriminatory, as Arizona “terminat[ed] domestic-partner benefits for state employees of every sexual orientation.”

However, Dan Barr, a Phoenix attorney also representing the employees, told the Republic the ban amounts to a “catch-22” — it says spousal and family benefits are available only to married workers, but same-sex couples can’t marry.

Also, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the supporters of Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, BuzzFeed notes. A challenge to the ban lost at the trial court level but is on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage had asked the Supreme Court to skip the appeals court and hear the case, but the high court declined to do so, meaning the appeal will continue.

Further, the Supreme Court declined to review eight other cases involving section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, as that was resolved by yesterday’s decision finding that denial of federal government recognition to same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

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