PHOENIX - Attorneys for the state will ask a federal appeals court today to let Arizona stop providing insurance benefits for the partners of gay workers.
Assistant Attorney General Charles Grube contends U.S. District Judge John Sedwick was wrong to issue an injunction last year barring the state from altering its benefits package.
That ruling requires Arizona to keep funding the coverage until there is a final ruling, which could take years.
State lawmakers voted to end the benefits to save money.
Grube said that before issuing an injunction, Sedwick was required to consider not only the claims of harm to the people losing benefits, but the harm to the state by being required to maintain them. But Grube said Sedwick was "explicitly dismissive" of evidence presented by the state about the cost burden on taxpayers of continuing to provide coverage.
Conversely, Grube said Sedwick gave too much credibility to what he said are little more than unproven allegations by those challenging the law.
Arizona provides benefits to the dependents of its state and university employees. But before 2008, that didn't include domestic partners of unmarried workers.
That year, at the direction of then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Department of Administration redefined who is a dependent.
Napolitano, a Democrat, quit in early 2009 to become Homeland Security chief in the Obama administration, elevating Republican Jan Brewer to governor. That paved the way for the Republican-controlled Legislature to cut the budget by limiting who is entitled to dependent coverage, excluding the partners of unmarried employees, whether gay or straight.
Lambda Legal filed suit on behalf of gay workers, saying they have no option of getting benefits because the state Constitution forbids them from marrying.
In his ruling last year, Sedwick said the change is discriminatory because it makes benefits available "on terms that are a legal impossibility for gay and lesbian couples."
"As a result, (the law) denies lesbian and gay state employees in qualifying domestic partnership a valuable form of compensation on the basis of sexual orientation."
The Department of Administration said about 800 employees obtained domestic partner benefits. But it is not clear how many of these are heterosexual couples who also were granted benefits in 2008 but lost them last October.
The state figured it paid about $4 million in claims for domestic-partners in the first year of the change, and $5.5 million last fiscal year.
Grube told Sedwick there was no real evidence the loss of state-provided health coverage would cause irreparable harm to the affected workers, who could get other insurance, though admittedly at a higher cost.
But attorney Tara Borelli, representing the affected workers, said in her legal arguments that's not true because several employees have life partners with chronic conditions that require immediate and ongoing care, and some can't get private coverage because of pre-existing conditions.