I'm voting 'no' April 3rd
By Senator Kim Elton
March 30, 2007
On April 3rd, Alaskans have an opportunity to take a detour
into moderation. We take thatdetour by voting 'no' in the upcoming
special advisory vote on whether our constitution should be
used to deny health and other employment benefits to same-sex
partners of public employees.
I'm voting 'no' vote because
each and every Alaskan deserves the full protection of our constitution.
Further, the state should make sure more folks are protected
by health insurance coverage, not fewer.
Here's what voters will be
asked April 3rd: "Shall the legislature adopt a proposed
amendment to the constitution to be considered by the voters
at the 2008 general election that would prohibit the state,
or a municipality or other subdivision of the state, from providing
employment benefits to same-sex partners of public employees
and to same-sex partners of public employee retirees?"
This question was prompted
by a unanimous ruling by the Alaska Supreme Court that all active
and retired public employees, regardless of sexual orientation,
are granted equal pay and benefits under our constitution. The
decision was vastly unpopular with Alaskans who believe some
health and other employment benefits should be predicated on
marriage instead of the constitutionally protected notion of
equal pay and benefits for equal work.
I've had 'water cooler' discussions
and more formal discussions with friends on both sides of the
issue and I believe all the justices of our supreme court got
the question of equal pay and benefits right. As a result, I'm
casting a 'no' vote. If you are preparing to vote 'yes', I'd
appreciate the favor of your consideration of my point of view.
- I believe in marriage and
the accompanying vows of commitment. I believe the vows made
between any pair of God's children should be honored and should
be binding. My wife and I made marriage vows before a minister
of the gospels and after pre-marriage counseling by a minister
who emphasized the depth of the commitment we were undertaking.
I don't believe, though, that marriage vows we made in our religious
ceremony are more, or less, binding than vows made in a civil
marriage. It is not uncommon to find vows made civilly that
are more binding and honored than vows some made in a religious
ceremony. Similarly, marriage vows where allowed and commitments
where not made by same-sex couples often prove more binding
than religious or civil marriage vows.
- The criteria established by
the state for extending employment benefits to same-sex couples
are rigid. You can't just say you are in a committed relationship;
you have to prove it by demonstrating shared assets and other
joint decisions that bind you together economically and as a
household. You have to notify your employer immediately if you
no longer meet the criteria, just as married couples must notify
their public employer if they divorce. The assets criteria for
same-sex couples are so tough in fact, I'm not sure Marylou
and I would qualify if those same criteria were applied to our
- I don't believe health and
other employment benefits should be taken from still-married
couples who violate their vows but choose to maintain a marriage
for the employment benefits that accrue because of marriage.
So, injecting the question of moral equivalency, why should
we deny health and other employment benefits to same-sex couples
who do remain faithful to their partners?
- Extending employment benefits
to same-sex couples is not a radical social experiment. The
City and Borough of Juneau and the University of Alaska extend
employment benefits to same-sex partners (three same-sex partners
are covered under the CBJ plan out of a total of more than 700
employees). A lot of private employers already extend benefits
to same-sex partners. They do it because it is good business
and makes them competitive in attracting and keeping good employees.
- My libertarian gene suggests
that our constitution not deny rights except in cases where
they harm others. I suggest the right to consume alcohol is
socially dangerous and ensuring equal pay and benefits for equal
work is beneficial. We ought not protect the first while banning
- Extending employment benefits
to same-sex couples does not open the door to discrimination
claims by other unwed couples. Our supreme court noted most
unwed couples have the option of marriage and when they marry
they gain employment benefits. On the other hand, an amendment
to our constitution adopted in 1998 precludes marriage of same-sex
couples so they can never attain employment benefits for their
- The 'anti' statement in the
election pamphlet notes: a "[constitutional] amendment
would prohibit state and local governments from offering family
health and retirement benefits to some of their workers. This
is not the time, nor is there ever a time, to take health care
benefits away from hardworking Alaskan families." Amen.
So, those are some of the reasons
I'm voting 'no'. For those of you who disagree and who have
gotten this far, thanks for your willingness to listen and consider
the arguments on the other side of this issue. I want to
close this newsletter by noting I am surprised that the tenor
of debate from those on both sides of this important issue has
been mostly civil and has not devolved into divisive, destructive
rhetoric. We know what the debate could become because we saw
what it was like when the debates on laws prohibiting interracial
marriage devolved. My fears that the debate on this advisory
vote would be vicious have been, for the most part, unfounded.
That says something special about Alaska
About: Senator Kim Elton (D)
is a member of the Alaska Legislature representing District B.
Note: Comments published
on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.
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