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Supreme Court Marriage Case Could Affect Domestic Partner Case In AZ

The outcome of the California marriage case being argued today in Washington could affect a local case awaiting high court action: A lawsuit over domestic partner benefits for gay state and university employees. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer reports.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear the fight over California's Proposition 8, it put a related Arizona appeal on hold. That concerns a 2010 law which took away health insurance and other benefits from the domestic partners of unmarried workers, making them available only to the families of married employees. A federal appeals court already has ruled that to be illegal discrimination, at least as far as gay workers. That's because Arizona voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2008 banning people who are gay from marrying, making it legally impossible for them to ever get the same benefits as their straight counterparts.

Attorney General Tom Horne said all that ceases to be an issue if the high court rules there is a federal constitutional right of gays to wed. Horne said, "if gays can marry, it makes our case stronger because the 9th circuit decision was, even though the majority of those affected were straights, they could have gotten married, and the gays can't." Horne went on to say, "in fact, they said we only have to give coverage to gays. We don't have to give it to straights."

Attorney Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal, who sued on behalf of gay state employees, said she doubts the justices will issue such a broad ruling. She said that will leave the state having to defend its position at the Supreme Court - assuming the justices even agree to hear Horne's appeal.