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Domestic-partner benefits approved for state workers

 by Leigh Munsil
 published on Wednesday, April 2, 2008


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A panel voted Tuesday to extend health benefits to the unmarried partners of state and university employees, marking a significant step for gay rights advocates in Arizona.

The proposal, submitted by the Arizona Department of Administration, was approved 4-0 by the Governor's Regulatory Review Council. The council approves or denies proposed rules based on their expected benefit, whether they are clear, not illegal, and not beyond the department's regulatory authority.

The partners of gay employees as well as partners of unmarried straight employees plus their dependants would receive benefits from the proposal.

Under current Arizona law, gay couples cannot be legally married.

Alan Ecker, a spokesman for the Department of Administration, said the agency proposed the plan as an employee recruitment and retention tool.

"In order to remain competitive, we believe it's in our best interest to support this," Ecker said.

State estimates put the number of partners likely to be covered between 317 and 853. Employees can sign up for the benefits beginning Oct. 1.

Despite critics' concerns that the measure harms the institution of marriage between one man and one woman, Ecker said "this rule has nothing to do with that."

The purpose is to give state employees the best benefits available, he said.

Ecker said that representatives from the Alliance Defense Fund and the Center for Arizona Policy testified at the Tuesday morning hearing, saying the proposal went beyond the Department of Administration's statutory authority.

Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Alliance Defense Fund, said the decision undermines families by allowing domestic partners to have the same benefits as married couples.

"Marriage is not a stamp of approval on an adult's relationship," Scott said. "Marriage is government's way of ensuring that children are protected in the relationships they're created in."

The only role that the government should have in the issue, he said, is to promote strong families.

"The only way a domestic partnership would be recognized would be to appease a radical political agenda," Scott said.

President Michael Crow wrote a letter supporting the measure in January.

The University is "pleased the state has decided to make this change," ASU spokesman Virgil Renzulli said in an e-mail.

The measure will allow the University to extend competitive pay and benefits in order to hire talented faculty and staff, Renzulli added.

"We are also committed to fairness in all that we do and see this change as a meaningful and important way for all of our employees to receive the same benefits," he said.

ASU employee Casey Self is an academic adviser with the University College and said the measure has the potential to affect him and his partner of 13 years.
"At the moment, it's a moral battle," Self said. "I'm very excited that Arizona has decided to recognize all families."

Kacie Vanasse, a housing and community development sophomore, said she supports the proposal.

"A lot of times in a couple, the partner can't get benefits," she said. "I think it's good to cover the family through the same system."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Reach the reporter at: leigh.munsil@asu.edu.



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