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July 11, 2012

Arizona asks court to hear benefits case

2008's Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano did not specify partners' genders for receipt of "dependent" status for health benefits. (UPI/Art Foxall)

WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Arizona has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to let the state cancel health insurance benefits for same-sex partners of state and university employees.

State Attorney General Tom Horne said in legal papers lawmakers should be allowed to deny the benefits because it "furthers the state's interest in promoting marriage" and he said there's no evidence showing the 2009 state law eliminating the benefits to unmarried partners was intended to discriminate against gays, Capitol Media Services reported.

The three-judge Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the state year.

Judge Mary Schroeder wrote in a unanimous opinion for the court that "when a state chooses to provide [health insurance] benefits, it may not do so in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner that adversely affects particular groups that may be unpopular."

In 2008, under then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, the state Department of Administration revised rules to include as a "dependent" someone living with the state or university employee for at least a year and expected to continue living with that person. The rule, which required proof of financial interdependence, did not refer to the gender of the partner

After Napolitano left to become U.S. Homeland Security secretary, elevating Republican Jan Brewer to governor, the GOP-controlled legislature put a provision in the budget limiting who can receive dependent coverage. The provision excluded partners of unmarried employees, whether gay or heterosexual.

Horne said the cost of providing domestic partners benefits in the first year of implementation totaled $5.5 million and said repealing the benefits was one step lawmakers took in response to a $1.6 billion budget deficit.

Brewer cited budget woes Monday while defending the decision to repeal the benefits and to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

"I was faced with the hugest budget deficit Arizona ever faced," she said. "So when we were trying to come together to get our budget balanced, that was one area where we could go in and address."

The repeal, she said, was not discriminatory.

"It wasn't just against just a certain segment of domestic partners," Brewer said. "We took it away from all domestic partners."

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