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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 heterosexual marriage.
  • 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 the second.
  • 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 partners.
  • 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.




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Ketchikan, Alaska