July 27, 2005

 

2006 Arizona ballot measure hits
hundreds of unmarried partners

A story published today in the Arizona Republic reports that more than 400 Arizonans would lose their medical insurance and other benefits if voters approved a constitutional amendment banning government-sponsored benefits to unmarried couples.

The measure, which will go on the Nov. 7, 2006, ballot if the necessary 183,917 valid signatures are gathered, prohibits cities, towns and counties from giving legal status to unmarried couples, gay or straight. It also defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The measure would not affect private businesses.

An Arizona Republic analysis shows that 439, or less than 1 percent, of the roughly 142,273 state and local government employees have unmarried partners who receive health insurance or other benefits in Arizona. Most of them work in Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Tucson and in Pima County.

Although a relatively small percentage of Arizonans would lose medical insurance immediately if the measure was approved, the effects would be much broader in the future, opponents of the initiative said.

"Thousands of families would be impacted in the future because governments would no longer be allowed to offer the benefits," said Steve May, co-chairman of the Arizona Human Rights Fund, a gay and lesbian advocacy group.

May and other opponents say the measure would prevent state, cities, towns and counties from offering domestic-partner benefits in the future. It eventually would mean that thousands of unmarried couples working for the government would have no chance of ever having the benefits, he said.

Protecting the status quo

Proponents of the measure said unmarried couples, straight or gay, shouldn't get the same benefits as those legally married.

Peter A. Gentala, legal counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy, one of the main proponents of the amendment, said the goal is to make sure nothing undermines the status of marriage as between a man and a woman.

"It's a promotion of marriage," he said. "State and municipal authorities shouldn't be allowed to undermine the definition of marriage."

Arizona law prohibits marriages involving same-sex couples, but they are not banned by the state Constitution. Supporters said that a constitutional amendment would be the strongest way of protecting the sanctity of marriage from "activist judges" who might overturn the law.

The proponents launched their campaign in May on the anniversary of same-sex marriage becoming legal in Massachusetts because of a judge's ruling.

The state of Arizona, the biggest government employer, doesn't offer domestic-partner benefits. Tucson, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Tempe and Pima County extend medical, dental and other benefits to unmarried couples.

Tucson Unified School District, Pima Community College and Sunnyside Unified School District in Tucson also offer domestic-partner benefits.

Health insurance benefits

Phoenix employee Peg Davis said it would be hard for her partner, Paula Ferreira, to continue operating her flower shop without the city's health insurance package.

"She pays taxes, sales taxes and license fees," Davis said of the contributions Ferreira's business generates to the state's economy. "She wouldn't be able to keep making those contributions if she wasn't covered by my health insurance."

Davis, 45, a deputy chief information officer, said she sought the Phoenix job six years ago in part because the city offers domestic-partner benefits.

"Phoenix is very progressive, and it wants a diverse workforce," said Davis, who also heads the city's Gay and Lesbian Employee Association, a loosely knit group of about 20 people. "Gay and unmarried couples alike are part of the diverse workforce."

Phoenix has 159 employees enrolled in domestic-partner benefits at a cost of roughly $450,000 annually, city officials said. The benefits were negotiated with the union in 2000.

Among the requirements to add a partner include a notarized affidavit of domestic partnership affirming the couple have lived in the same residence for at least the past 12 consecutive months and a copy of a joint bank statement.

Children of a domestic partner living with the city's employee also qualify to be enrolled in the medical package.

"I have to adhere to a very strict standard to get the benefits, but it's very worthwhile," Davis said, adding that she would consider leaving the city and possibly the state if domestic-partner benefits were taken away.

Tempe, Scottsdale, Tucson and Pima County also require, among other things, statements affirming domestic partnerships.

The potential impact on other government jurisdictions:


 Tucson's domestic-partner registry has 257 couples, but only 30 city employees have signed up their partners for the health or dental insurance, said Michael Carson, a city spokesman. The cost is roughly $110,406 per year.


 In Tempe, 32 domestic partners are enrolled. The city pays 70 percent of a spouse or domestic partner's medical coverage, which ranges from $2,940 to $3,680 a year depending on the plan selected.


 In Pima County, 175 employees are in the domestic-partner medical or dental insurance plans at a cost of about $349,674 annually.

Amelia Craig Cramer, a 45-year-old county lawyer, is one of them. Her partner, Amy Cramer is a college professor and can afford health insurance on her own.

But the couple decided to get the benefits through Pima County because they felt it was a way of publicly recognizing their union.

"We want to be on the same insurance as a family," said Craig Cramer, chief civil deputy at Pima County Attorney's Office. The couple live in Tucson with their 6-year-old daughter. "We want our family to be recognized."

Other perks are also at stake.

"We would lose our right to hospital visitations in Tucson and family discounts to parks activities," said Craig Cramer, who also fears the proposed initiative could trigger private employers to start backing out of offering domestic-partner benefits.

In Arizona, there were 118,196 households with unmarried partners in 2000, or 10.7 percent of all couples in the state, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. About 12,000 households included same-sex couples.