Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona John W. Sedwick, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. of Arizona; 2:09-cv-02402-JWS
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schroeder, Circuit Judge:
Argued and Submitted February 14, 2011-San Francisco, California
Before: Mary M. Schroeder and Sidney R. Thomas, Circuit Judges, and Mark W. Bennett, District Judge.*fn1
The State of Arizona appeals the district court's order granting a preliminary injunction to prevent a state law from taking effect that would have terminated eligibility for health-care benefits of state employees' same-sex partners. In a published opinion, the district court found that the plaintiffs demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, because they showed that the law adversely affected a classification of employees on the basis of sexual orientation, and did not further any of the state's claimed justifiable interests. Collins v. Brewer, 727 F. Supp. 2d 797 (D. Ariz. 2010).*fn2 The court also found that the plaintiffs had established a likelihood of irreparable harm in the event coverage for partners ceased. The district court's findings and conclusions are supported by the record and we affirm.
In April of 2008, the State of Arizona administratively adopted amendments to Section 101 of Chapter 5 of Title 2 of the Arizona Administrative Code to offer access to health-care benefits for qualified opposite-sex and same-sex domestic partners of state employees. Prior to 2008, when state employees chose to participate in the State's health insurance program, they only had the option to include their spouses and children within the defined parameters of the term "depen-dent." In 2008, the amendments expanded the definition of "dependent" to include qualified "domestic partners," who could be of either sex. See 14 Ariz. Admin. Reg. 1420-34 (Apr. 25, 2008).
In November of 2008, however, the Arizona voters approved Proposition 102, also known as the Marriage Protection Amendment, which amended the Arizona Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman: "Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state." Ariz. Const. art. 30, § 1. On September 4, 2009, the governor of Arizona signed House Bill 2013, which included a statutory provision, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 38-651(O) ("Section O") that redefined "dependants" as "spouses," and thus would eliminate coverage for domestic partners:
O. FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS SECTION, BEGINNING OCTOBER 1, 2009, "DEPENDENT" MEANS A SPOUSE UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS STATE, A CHILD WHO IS UNDER NINETEEN YEARS OF AGE OR A CHILD WHO IS UNDER TWENTY-THREE YEARS OF AGE AND WHO IS A FULL-TIME STUDENT.
After a number of adjustments not at issue here, the new definition of "dependent" was slated to take effect on January 1, 2011.
A group of gay and lesbian state employees ("Plaintiffs") filed a complaint on November 17, 2009 amended on January 7, 2010, seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to redress Section O's claimed violation of their equal protection and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. According to the factual allega-tions of the complaint, which are not disputed, all of the plaintiffs are highly skilled state employees whose job duties are equivalent to the duties of their heterosexual colleagues. Each of the nine plaintiffs and his or her domestic partner have enjoyed a long-term, committed, and financially interdependent relationship, and would marry if Arizona law permitted same-sex couples to marry. Each plaintiff enrolled his or her domestic partner and the domestic partner's qualifying children (if any) for family coverage during the 2008 or 2009 open enrollment period. Each plaintiff, domestic partner, and partner's child met the eligibility requirements for coverage at the time of enrollment and continue to meet those requirements. Each named plaintiff would lose health insurance coverage for his or her domestic partner, and his or her partner's children if Section O were to go into effect.
The complaint also reflects that such a loss would cause all of the plaintiffs serious financial and emotional harm. For example, one of the plaintiffs, Beverly Seckinger, a Professor and Interim Director of the School of Media Arts at the University of Arizona, has been in an exclusive and financially interdependent relationship with Susan Taunton for over 22 years. The two registered as domestic partners with the City of Tucson in October 2005. Susan enrolled in the state's family coverage in 2008, and remains enrolled. Susan is the primary caregiver for her 89-year-old mother, who has dementia and ...