Empire Editorial: State needs to honor the court, not defy it

Posted: Sunday, January 08, 2006

A court ruling that the state must provide benefits to same-sex partners now has conservatives scrambling to figure out how they can circumvent the law.

The latest effort is a request, filed Thursday, that the state should not be forced to grant benefits to gay or lesbian partners of public employees for at least a year.

Gov. Frank Murkowski and Republican leaders have made it clear they will do everything they can to prevent gay partners from receiving the same benefits that heterosexual couples receive. To achieve this end, they are aiming to get Alaska lawmakers to approve a constitutional amendment that would go before voters.

The state's request to avoid compliance with the decision on same-sex benefits for a year is clearly just a stalling tactic while homophobic officials marshal their forces.

The American Civil Liberties Union has requested that the state provide same-sex benefits by May 10. Opponents cry that this deadline is too soon and claim that the request ignores the lawmaking process, which includes a 90-day period before a law goes into effect.

Assistant Attorney General Virginia Ragle argued that the May 10 deadline could give lawmakers "as little as a few days" to pass legislation. What it really means is that lawmakers, notorious for accomplishing next to nothing in their first weeks back at the Capitol, would actually have to get something done during the month of January.

Moreover, this shouldn't be a difficult task. Legislators will not have to hammer out a complex agreement that appeases multiple parties, as they would if they were working out a deal on subsistence or transportation funding. Rather, they simply have to pass legislation that complies with a court mandate.

A May 10 deadline could be too soon for the state to launch same-sex benefits because, for many workers, benefits are tied to union agreements the state can't alter. But state officials should be working with unions to make those adjustments as quickly as possible to comply with the court decision.

Instead, Murkowski's ideology has trumped his respect for the law. Conservatives are working against the live-and-let-live attitude that is particularly Alaskan. They have abandoned their traditional philosophy of limiting government's role in people's lives - instead increasing the number of laws and constitutional measures that create separate classes of citizens based on their sexual preference. And above all, they have dropped all concern for equality among people. For them equality is only for people who think like they do.

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that limiting same-sex partners' benefits violates the state constitution's equal protection clause. It's time that the Murkowski administration and conservative leaders show some respect for the law.



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