legislature could soon be deliberating a proposed amendment
to the state constitution to nullify a court decision
ordering the state to pay benefits to the same-sex
partners of its employees.
Senate judiciary committee chairman Ralph
Seekins told the legislative council Thursday evening
that he has a draft constitutional amendment that
could be introduced by his committee as early as next week.
A constitutional change would require approval by two
thirds of the house and senate and approval by a
majority of voters in November's election.
The Alaska supreme court ruled in October that
denying gay couples the same public employee benefits
as married couples--life and health insurance,
plus retirement and death benefits--violates the
Alaska constitution's equal-protection clause. The
court noted that unmarried straight couples also are
denied benefits, but they, unlike gay couples, have
the option to legally marry.
Following that ruling, Gov. Frank Murkowski and
state senator Fred Dyson separately called for
changing the state's constitution to strike the
ruling. "We have no choice but to defend our actions against
an interventionist court that is, in my opinion, hard
of hearing," Dyson said Thursday. "We're going to give
the people a chance to speak again, this time maybe a
little bit louder."
The legislature in 1996 passed a law that said a
same-sex couple is not entitled to the benefits of a
married couple, which the Alaska supreme court found
unconstitutional. In 1998 voters approved an amendment to
the state's constitution defining marriage as the
union of a man and a woman.
Dyson declined to say what the draft amendment
specifically says. However, he said the debate so far
has been whether to expressly ban benefits for
unmarried couples or to leave the decision to the state and
its political subdivisions. A Democratic member of the
senate judiciary committee said he would wait to see
what comes to the panel before making a judgment, but
he appeared skeptical.
"You're going to have a tough time convincing me
that this is an issue important enough to require an
amendment to the state constitution," said Sen. Hollis French.
Michael Macleod-Ball, executive director of the
American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, one of the
plaintiffs that brought the case to the supreme court,
also said he would wait and see. "If they are trying
to add something that says we can discriminate against gays,
I think that's going to run afoul of the
constitution," he said. (AP)