Gov. Jan Brewer has petitioned the Supreme Court to let Arizona stop giving healthcare benefits to domestic partners in same-sex relationships. She frames it as a cost cutting measure—saving about $1.8 million annually—even though the move risks losing the $122 million that gay tourists spend in Arizona each year. Brewer also calls it a state’s rights issue, having never quite grasped the concept that state’s rights don’t trump civil rights.
The State of Arizona began paying healthcare benefits for domestic partners under a more sane administration. Former Governor Janet Napolitano put the policy into effect with an executive order in 2008. As soon as she could—2009, to be precise—Jan Brewer signed legislation that revoked the benefits. After a lawsuit by some of the affected couples, two federal courts ruled that the provision for same-sex couples could not be revoked, while the one for heterosexuals could. The basis for the rulings was that while heterosexual couples had the option of marrying and, thus, obtaining health-care benefits, same-sex couples in Arizona do not have the marriage option. Therefore, to revoke their coverage would amount to illegal discrimination.
Not that discrimination arguments have a snowball’s chance in the desert of swaying Arizona’s extreme right government—but one would think the financial argument might. Apparently, not so. On Tuesday, a gay Brewer appointee, Edwin Leslie, resigned from the Arizona Tourism Advisory Council in protest. In a two-page letter to Brewer, he reminded the governor that she should not jeopardize tourism efforts, but “act responsibly” in favor of Arizona’s economy. Furthermore, he told her, “Your actions discriminate against one part of the state’s residents to appease a small fraction of the population. Arizona residents by and large are supportive of LGBT equality.”
Brewer’s petition to the Supreme Court left other officials scrambling. The City of Phoenix has worked for eight years to strengthen its gay tourism plan, only to see it sabotaged by Brewer’s short-sighted, mean-spirited action. In an effort at damage control, Democratic Mayor Greg Stanton issued the following statement:
“At the City of Phoenix, we recognize diversity as a strength, and we embrace it. Here it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight; as long as you get the job done, you’ll get the same benefits. By offering competitive benefits, we are able to attract and retain the most talented people. Offering domestic partner benefits is not just the right thing to do; it is smart management practice.”
Unfortunately for Stanton, his city is still in Arizona. Ben Bethel, owner of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix had a more succinct reaction, saying that state officials have pounded “one more nail in the state’s tourism coffin.” The beneficiaries? States like New York and Hawaii, where gay rights are embraced.
Aloha (hello), Hawaii! Aloha (good-bye), tourist dollars!