Brewer appointee resigns amid AZ effort to end domestic partner benefits - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Brewer appointee resigns amid AZ effort to end domestic partner benefits

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Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 5:26 pm | Updated: 4:07 pm, Sun Jul 15, 2012.

One of Gov. Jan Brewer's appointees to the Tourism Advisory Council quit Tuesday to protest her decision to strip benefits from the domestic partners of gay state and university employees.

In a letter to the governor, Edwin Leslie reminded Brewer of her Independence Day official statement this year where she talked about how citizens of the United States "have been blessed with liberties and inalienable rights that make us truly and uniquely American.''

But Leslie noted that the Attorney General's Office, at Brewer's direction, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow Arizona to implement a 2009 law which said only the spouses of married workers are entitled to benefits.

That law overturned a year-old change in state personnel rules which said homosexual workers with domestic partners are entitled to the same rights. But federal courts have so far ruled the state's action discriminatory

"Your actions ... are in direct conflict with your reiteration that all Americans are entitled to the same 'inalienable rights,' '' Leslie wrote.

Leslie is founder and chief executive of Bridlie Hospitality Management which operates the Carefree Resort and Conference Center. Brewer named him to the 15-member board in 2010 to represent Maricopa County and the communities of Scottsdale, Cave Creek and Carefree in particular.

In his letter, Leslie told the governor that her actions are contrary to helping promote tourism.

"The state of Arizona derives considerable revenues from tourism and considerable revenues from the LGBT community members that visit our great state,'' he wrote.

"The tourism industry is critical to the state's economy,'' Leslie wrote. "I urge you to put aside the politics and act responsibility in favor of ... this critical part of our economy.''

Anyway, Leslie said, Brewer's stance is out of step with the public, citing a Public Policy Polling survey from May showing 77 percent of those questioned support either full marriage equality or at least civil unions for gay couples.

"Your actions discriminate against one part of the state's residents to appease a small fraction of the population,'' he said.

But Leslie said business and the economy is only part of the issue.

"The LGBT community, of which I am a proud part, deserves all of the same rights, privileges and liberties as every American, be it in domestic partner benefits, adoption, marriage or any other rights that are so freely enjoyed by every other person in the U.S.,'' Leslie wrote to the governor. "It is my hope that one day the state of Arizona leads the nation in extending benefits to LGBT families, allowing same sex marriage and adoption, and show that everyone is welcome in Arizona.''

Gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss appreciates Leslie's service, calling it "regrettable that he has opted to politicize his decision (to resign) in this manner.''

Benson pointed out that there were no domestic partner benefits for state and university workers until 2008 when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano pushed through a change in personnel rules to redefine who is a "dependent.'' That rule applied to any couple who could meet certain criteria, whether gay or heterosexual.

After Napolitano quit in 2009, the Legislature -- with Brewer's approval -- passed a law overriding that rule.

"This issue isn't about gay domestic partners,'' Benson said.

"It's about the authority of Arizona's duly elected officials to make budget decisions for this state,'' he continued. Brewer and lawmakers cited the budget deficit and additional cost of health care and other insurance for domestic partners -- estimated in court papers at about $5 million a year -- in deciding to rescind the benefits.

A more recent figure from the state Department of Administration says there are currently 230 active state and university employees and three retirees who have same-sex domestic partner medical coverage. Spokesman Alan Ecker said the cost to the state for the partners and their dependents is nearly $1.9 million a year.

Benson also noted the 2009 law was not about sexual orientation, as it repealed benefits for all employees in domestic partnerships. It was the federal court, Benson said, which made it about gay rights.

That is only partly true.

The legal challenge to the law was mounted by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, but only on behalf of homosexual workers.

That organization argued that homosexual workers, unlike their heterosexual counterparts, cannot get around the change -- and get benefits -- by marrying. That is because Arizona voters -- again, with Brewer's approval -- previously adopted a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

A federal trial judge and eventually the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with challengers, blocking the state from dropping benefits to the partners of gay employees. Unmarried heterosexual workers, who were not part of the lawsuit, lost their benefits for their partners two years ago.

As to the charge that the resignation is being politicized, Benson pointed out that Leslie accepted Brewer's appointment in 2010, a year after she and lawmakers first voted to drop domestic partner benefits. "All that's new as of the last week or so is the continuation of this case,'' Benson said, with the petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leslie declined to speak about his move.

"I simply wish to stand by the statements made in my resignation,'' he said in a message to Capitol Media Services.

Benson said he knows of no other state official or board member who has resigned over Brewer's stance on domestic partner benefits.

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