State seeks to block same-sex partner benefits

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Lawyers representing Arizona's attempt to cut off benefits to state workers' same-sex partners faced skepticism Monday from one of the three federal appeals court judges considering the issue.

The state was arguing its case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, citing budgetary concerns as a compelling reason why it denied benefits to an estimated 300 people.

Judge Sidney Thomas said it appears Arizona put same-sex partners in a "bad situation" when the Legislature passed the law revoking the benefits that same-sex couples had been receiving since 2008. A judge overturned the law last summer, and the state appealed.

But Thomas told Arizona's lawyer, Charles Grube, that those who lost the benefits would be hard-pressed finding insurance coverage elsewhere and wondered if that would be unconstitutional "irreparable harm."

Then-Gov. Janet Napolitano's administration authorized the extension of benefits in late 2008. Several months later, Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law the revocation of benefits as one way to balance the state's budget.

Ten state employees sued in November 2009 on behalf of all same-sex couples threatened by the benefits ban, including Deanna Pfleger and Mia LaBarbara, who attended the hearing in San Francisco.

The Lake Havasu City couple said they are fearful that LaBarbara will have to go without health insurance and leave untreated several health conditions if kicked off the state plan.

"This will be financially devastating to us," said Pfleger, who serves as a warden for the state Game and Fish Department. "Mia is part of my family. She is my partner."