PHOENIX (AP) — Gay marriage proponents marked another victory Thursday after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from Arizona and Nevada involving the rights of same-sex couples.
The justices let stand an appeals court ruling striking down an Arizona law that made state employees in same-sex relationships ineligible for domestic partner benefits. The Nevada case was a challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The court did not elaborate on the reason for not taking up the cases.
The court's decisions on the two cases are not as sweeping as rulings Wednesday that made it a landmark week for gay rights. The Supreme Court issued decisions that struck down a provision that denies federal benefits to married gay couples and also cleared the way for state laws that recognize marriage equality.
In Arizona, the decision means dozens of same-sex state workers will be allowed to keep employee benefits. For the Nevada case, the gay marriage ban will remain intact, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco will decide the next step.
Republican Gov. Jan Brewer denied Thursday that Arizona had targeted gay couples and slammed the court for not recognizing the state's right to balance its budget by limiting employee benefits.
"This case has never been about domestic partners, same-sex or otherwise," Brewer said in a statement. "It is always been about the authority of elected state officials to make decisions with which we have been entrusted by the voters."
Arizona's constitution bans gay marriage and a 2009 law signed by Brewer repealed domestic partner benefits for state workers. Brewer said the state was in a fiscal crisis and couldn't afford to extend health care benefits to employees' dependents if they weren't married. She said the policy was legal because it applied to all employees, regardless of sexual orientation.
Gay marriage proponents counter that the policy was discriminatory because heterosexual couples may marry to obtain benefits, while gay couples can't under state law.
"The state is excluding only one group of employees from family coverage and that is lesbian and gay employees," said Tara Borelli, a lawyer for Lambda Legal in Los Angeles.
The conservative Center for Arizona Policy, which opposes gay marriage, had supported the state's position in court, and has vowed to fight any efforts to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.