As Kirk Erickson’s father was suffering
from lung cancer five years ago, it was
a tough time for the family.
So it was a big help when Erickson’s
fiancée, Kristin, was able to take time
away from work to help out her
soon-to-be in-laws and still get
Erickson and his wife weren’t yet
married, but their employer, the city of
Tempe, gave them marriage benefits
Tempe is one of a handful of Arizona
cities to offer benefits to unmarried
domestic partners, both gay and
straight. But an initiative on the
November ballot threatens those
benefits, and some city employees worry
about losing a competitive advantage in
the job market.
“I think it allows for a more diverse
workgroup,” said Erickson, a Tempe code
inspector. “You’re allowing the same
benefits to be available to employees
who choose not to be married, and I
think allowing that is treating
employees fairly, on an equal plain,
regardless of their lifestyle choice.
Proposition 107, known as Protect
Marriage Arizona, amends the Arizona
Constitution to define marriage as a
union between one man and one woman. It
also prevents state and local
governments from recognizing
relationships similar to marriage, such
as the domestic partnerships that Tempe
Now married, Erickson and his wife no
longer use Tempe’s domestic partner
Thirty-seven Tempe employees, about 2.5
percent, currently use the benefits,
said Julie Hietter, employee benefits
The number of employees using the
benefit has hovered around that level
since the policy was initially adopted
seven years ago, she said.
“It’s one of many benefits we would
promote in our recruitment of new
employees,” she said. “Certainly not the
only one. But we do feel that it makes
for a well-rounded benefits package for
Domestic partner benefits are exactly
equivalent to spousal benefits, Hietter
said. The city covers health, dental and
The city’s cost for providing the
benefits could not be easily calculated
because the city lumps spousal, domestic
partner and other benefits together when
it reports statistics, Hietter said.
The city defines a domestic partner as
an adult who has shared the employee’s
permanent residence for at least six
months and is financially
interdependent, demonstrated by joint
home ownership or other joint financial
ventures, according to city documents.
City planner Eric Hansen said the
initiative would put the city at a
disadvantage when competing with the
private sector for employees, because
the initiative does not affect benefits
offered by private firms.
“If the public sector is going to
compete with the private sector for
creative, talented employees, the public
sector needs to provide benefits
equivalent to the private sector,” he
Proposition 107 is not about eliminating
domestic partner benefits, but instead
“stops activists from using the courts
to redefine marriage,” said Cathi Herrod,
a spokeswoman Protect Marriage Arizona.
Although Arizona law already bans gay
marriage—which the state Court of
Appeals upheld in 2004—Herrod said the
ban isn’t secure.
"It only takes one more lawsuit to
overturn our marriage law," she said.
Proposition 107 would require voters to
overturn the ban.
While she acknowledged that Proposition
107 would eliminate domestic partner
benefits, she said such benefits are
"Frankly, the city is discriminating
against employees when they only offer
domestic-partner benefits," Herrod said.
Unmarried employees with an adult
dependent, such as a handicapped adult
son or daughter, do not get domestic
partner benefits, she added.
“If you add benefits on an equal basis
it would allow cities to recruit
employees with a kid with Down
syndrome,” she said.
The city of Chandler does not offer
domestic partner benefits, a spokesman