Alaskan Same-Sex Partners Due Benefits

October 31, 2005 ( - The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that state and municipal governments must provide benefits to same-sex partners.

The unanimous decision roused the ire of Governor Murkowski, who has directed Attorney General Dave Marquez to draft legislation to undo the Supreme Court’s decision, t he Fairbanks News-Miner reported.   Murkowski said the state will incur additional costs as a result of the ruling.

In its decision, the state’s Supreme Court said that the constitutional amendment that marriage is solely between a man and a woman does not “automatically permit the government to treat them differently in other ways.”   The Court said that denying employees benefits for their live-in same-sex partners violates the workers’ guarantee of equal rights, opportunities and protection under Article I, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution, according to the News-Miner.

A summary judgment issued by the Superior Court in 2001 denied benefits to same-sex partners of employees, stating that the government had a legitimate interest in reducing costs, maintaining efficiency, and promoting marriage.   Nine Anchorage couples and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court judgment, saying the spousal limitation in government employees’ benefits is discriminatory because opposite-sex domestic partners have the option to marry, while Alaska law prevents same-sex partners from marrying.   The court instructed plaintiffs in the case to submit their requests for remedy and said the disputed benefits packages will stand until a remedy is reached.

A similar ruling was reached in Michigan recently, giving state employees the right to health benefits (See  MI Gay Rights Group Wins Benefits Ruling ).