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Court Fight Brewing Over State Domestic Partner Benefits

The state is headed back to court on the issue of gay rights. But, Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer reports that this time the issue is not marriage — at least not directly.

The fight is over whether Arizona can refuse to provide benefits to the domestic partners of its gay state and university employees that it gives to those who are married. A federal court already enjoined a 2009 law which sought to take away the benefits granted a year earlier by rule. Now, Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal wants Judge John Sedwick to void the law entirely for all existing and future workers. Attorneys for the state say this is not discrimination based on sexual orientation, as the law denies benefits for all domestic partners. But, Borelli said that ignores the fact that straight employees have the option of getting benefits by getting married. Gays do not.

“It turns on the fact that, at the moment, the state is saying with one hand, ‘Oh, you have to be married to get these benefits,’ but with the other hand, ‘Oh you can’t get married, you people over here,’” Borelli said.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed that 2009 law killing domestic partner benefits, said it was not about discrimination, but about dealing with the state’’s budget deficit.

“I believe that was one area where we could cut costs, just like we had to do in behavioral health or education. We made tough choices,” Brewer said.

But, Borelli said whatever the cost, the state cannot balance its budget with discriminatory laws.

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