About 50 municipal employees in Scottsdale and Tempe would no longer be able to extend health benefits to their domestic partners if activists succeed in their efforts to ban municipalities from offering such public benefits.
Tempe offers domesticpartner benefits to 32 employees, while 19 Scottsdale workers take advantage of the benefits. Neither city would give specifics about the number of those employees who are in same-sex or opposite-sex relationships.
The conservative Center for Arizona Policy, which opposes same-sex marriages, announced Thursday it would seek an amendment to the Arizona Constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. The initiative, targeted for 2006, also would prohibit domestic partners from receiving public benefits, including those offered to unmarried employees in heterosexual relationships.
Officials in both cities expressed concern that any change in the law would undermine local decision-making authority. They are the only East Valley cities to offer such benefits.
Scottsdale officials said that while the number of employees who take advantage of the benefit represents about 1 percent of its work force that qualify for that benefit, it’s an important part of the overall benefits package, allowing the city to compete with the private sector.
"It is extremely important to us and our overall compensation strategies, and obviously important to the 19 employees and their domestic partners who have elected that benefit," said Neal Shearer, a Scottsdale assistant city manager who oversees the Human Resources Department. "This is one of those general areas of local control."
Cathi Herrod, a lobbyist for the center, said the amendment would not discriminate between hetero- sexual or homosexual relationships, but rather would ban unmarried couples from receiving benefits should their employer be a public agency, such as a city.
"It’s regardless of whether the cohabitation is heterosexual or homosexual," Herrod said. "The reason our laws are structured so that married couples receive certain rights and privileges and benefits is because marriage benefits society."
Backers of the amendment would need more than 183,000 valid signatures to place the amendment on the ballot.
"Should that get on a ballot and should voters be in favor of it, certainly our policies and procedures would fall in line with any constitutional amendment," said Jeff Kulaga, Tempe’s community relations manager.
"But the ability to make local decisions for the people we serve is a pinnacle component (of a city’s responsibility)," Kulaga said.
Tempe began offering the benefits in July 1999. Scottsdale retooled its health care program to include benefits in 2001. Phoenix and Tucson also offer benefits to domestic partners of employees.