November 20, 2006
Governor Murkowski called the Legislature into special session to respond to orders by the Supreme Court and Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides that the State start providing employment and retirement benefits to homosexual "partners" by January 1, 2007.
In an update on the special session, Lt. Governor Loren Leman stated on his website that both the governor and he believed the people of Alaska spoke clearly on this issue in 1998 when Alaska became the first state in the United States to protect the definition of marriage in its constitution. Leman stated that both administrators believe the Supreme Court decision is wrong, but also recognized that the proper venue for initiating a response is the Legislature, not the Administration through regulations.
Leman noted that the Legislature had expressed reticence to accommodate the Court's demands during its "lame-duck" status, and instead had asked the Supreme Court to give it time to address possible changes to Alaska's constitution or to State law in its next regular session that starts in January 2007.
However on Friday, the House of Representatives passed CSHB 4002, sponsored by House Rules Chairman Representative Norman Rokeberg (R-Anchorage) by a vote of 24-6. The legislation calls for an advisory vote of the people on the issue of benefits for same-sex partners of public employees or public employee retirees. Voters would be asked if they support a constitutional amendment to change the marriage amendment to exclude same-sex couples from receiving health insurance benefits.
Passage of CSHB 4002 would put the following question before voters on April 3, 2007:
"We trust the people and they need to be able to vote on a constitutional amendment on this subject," said Representative Rokeberg. "By authorizing an advisory vote of the people, we will put substantial political pressure on members to enact a constitutional amendment which may only appear on the general election ballot in 2008, giving the people the final say."
The House also passed HB 4001, by a vote of 22-8 legislation forbidding the Commissioner of Administration from moving forward on the issue of same-sex benefits without statutory authority.
"I simply do not believe it is appropriate for the Judicial Branch to side-step the Legislature's constitutional right to find a remedy to the court's decision on this issue by ordering the executive branch to put a new employment benefits program in place," said House Majority Leader John Coghill. "The courts have overruled the people of Alaska, the state legislature, and the next generation by making same sex partners equal to married people with regard to the benefits of marriage."
The House has adjourned Sine Die - without fixing a day for future action.
The Senate was scheduled to
meet Sunday, November 19, to address HB 4001, HB 4002.
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