Court Blocks AZ Domestic Partner Benefits Limit

July 29, 2010 ( – A federal judge in Arizona, which bans gay marriage, has blocked a state law limiting state-provided health and accident insurance to spouses of state employees.

U.S. District Judge John W. Sedwick of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of the law as part of a lawsuit filed by nine state workers challenging the statute under equal protection and due process grounds.  Sedwick make the move based on the equal protection argument, but rejected the due process claim under the theory that the state of Arizona is not legally mandated to provide its workers with health care coverage. 

The disputed law modified the state employee health and accident insurance plan to apply only to the workers and their spouses, children under 19 and children under 23 who are full-time students. The statute was set to kick in January 1, 2011. 

In agreeing to the plaintiffs’ injunction requests, the court accepted the arguments that the extra state cost in allowing domestic partner coverage was “negligible” and that the distinction between spouses and domestic partners on the basis of administrative efficiency was not a valid legal justification for the law.  Sedwick also asserted that the law did not further the state’s interest in promoting marriage because same-sex domestic partners can’t marry in Arizona. 

According to the ruling, only a scant 800 out of 140,000 state employees get domestic partner benefits under current law. 

The case is Collins v. Brewer, D. Ariz., No. 2:09-cv-02402 JWS.