Arizona Appeals Domestic-Partner Benefits Case to U.S. Supreme Court

Arizona Appeals Domestic-Partner Benefits Case to U.S. Supreme Court

Arizona Appeals Domestic-Partner Benefits Case to U.S. Supreme Court

(WNS) -- Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide next term whether the Grand Canyon State will be forced to offer spousal benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees — adding to the growing list of cases that could force the Court to define marriage once and for all in the near future.

The case stems from 2009, when Arizona — seeking ways to cut state spending and close a $1.6 billion budget hole — passed a law cutting the benefits for non-spouses of state employees. Gay activists sued, saying that because they cannot marry in Arizona, the new law discriminates against them.

Since then, it’s been blocked as legal proceedings have gone forward. Both a federal district court judge and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state must continue offering the benefits to domestic partners of gay state employees. In April, the 9th Circuit denied the state a re-hearing by a full 11-judge panel, prompting Brewer’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain disagreed with his colleagues at the 9th, writing in a scathing dissent that they “all but expressly held that opposite-sex-only marriage rules are unconstitutional — indeed, that such rules are irrational per se because they can rest only on a ‘bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group.’ … The panel concluded — in a way that is veiled but unmistakable — that rules benefiting only traditional marriage serve no conceivable rational purpose.”

John Eastman, a lawyer with the National Organization for Marriage, told the state wasn’t discriminating against anyone, since the benefits package in question didn’t just go to same-sex domestic partners, but anyone maintaining a financial relationship with another person with whom he or she had been living for at least a year, including opposite-gender roommates. Only about 7 percent of the people receiving the benefits were in homosexual relationships with state employees.

The court will decide whether to take the case when it reconvenes this autumn. But given the number of marriage cases piling up on its doorstep, it’s likely the justices could make a pivotal ruling with far-reaching implications by next June.

In addition to Arizona’s domestic-partner benefits case, two challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act have been rolled into one and appealed to the high court. Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit’s decision saying California’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman — known as Prop. 8 — is unconstitutional is expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court in the next few weeks.

“The next Supreme Court term seems to be all about gay marriage,” said CitizenLink judicial issues analyst Bruce Hausknecht, “if the Court picks up any or all of these cases.”

c. 2012 WORLD News Service. Used with permission.

Publication date: July 18, 2012