By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
The US Supreme Court will soon decide on cases involving a states right to ban same-sex marriage and on a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a women. At all levels of government a fight over the rights of same-sex couples to marry, receive insurance benefits and file joint tax returns has created a patchwork of varied laws. On April 2nd the city of Bisbee, Arizona voted to allow same-sex couples to marry, becoming the first Arizona city to allow such a union.
Same-sex marriages in the city of Bisbee would provide several benefits currently unavailable to same-sex couples in Arizona such as adoption, inheritance and community property rights, and the ability to act as a guardian of a partner. The policy would also have several limits and other cities and the state of Arizona may choose not to recognize these benefits. The ordinance states that civil unions would be given the same rights as married couples in Bisbee which may indicate city employees would receive domestic partner health insurance benefits.
The State of Arizona has a stormy history with providing domestic partner health insurance. An executive order by departing Governor Napolitano in 2008 granted benefits but new Governor Jan Brewer sought to end the measure, citing costs to the state during a tough recession budget. In 2009 the Arizona legislature passed a budget bill that excluded domestic partners from health insurance. Estimates have put the cost to the state of providing benefits at 3 to 4.5 million a year. However with more than half of fortune 500 companies already providing benefits to couples regardless of sexual orientation it has been suggested that attracting the best employees to the state would require competitive benefits. The State of Arizona was sued for discrimination over which couples received health benefits and has been through several court battles and is currently required to offer benefits to domestic partners.
In 2008 Arizonans approved ballot measure Prop 102 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The measure faced controversy over its path to the ballot, going through the legislature rather than a signature driven initiative process. Arizona bill SCR1042 was originally introduced to make March 29th a day to honor Vietnam Veterans, but most of the text was removed from the bill with a strike everything amendment and new language was introduced defining marriage and leaving out anything about Vietnam Veterans. By changing the text LGBT advocacy groups claim to have had little ability to find out such legislation was being heard to rally supporters to contact their legislators. The bill was voted on during the last day of the legislature in 2008 and legislators who opposed the bill found their microphones cut off, leading to a senate ethics investigation. Approximately 56% of voters approved the measure, which has often been brought up as a barrier to cities that might legalize such partnerships or any level of government providing same-sex couples benefits.
The City Council of Bisbee has responded to the question about state law defining marriage by noting that state law does not impose similar restrictions on the application of civil unions. Bisbee instead seems to point to anti-discrimination laws that would protect all couples. Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has warned Bisbee that he will bring suit against their civil union ordinance. Horne notes several state laws that may be threatened by cities allowing civil unions, including the law defining marriage.
The US Supreme Court has begun to hear arguments on California Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which define marriage as between one man and one woman. If Prop 8 is declared unconstitutional Arizona’s law defining marriage may come to an end. If DOMA is removed same-sex couples may begin to qualify for federal benefits and joint tax filing.
The decision by the Bisbee City Council to allow domestic partnerships met with a huge turnout by local citizens. Video taken by Elle Loneprotestor:
Around the state discussion has focused on whether other cities will follow. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton has supported domestic partner benefits and a movement called the Unity Pledge which encourages businesses to provide benefits to same-sex couples. With a possible decision on Prop 8, DOMA, and Bisbee facing a suit from the State Attorney General over allowing civil unions and the potential of State Legislature passing new legislation there is plenty more to come.