My Turn: Is it OK if they pay to be gay?

Every Alaska state employee should be able to designate one 'partner' to be eligible for benefits

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2007

A laska's Supreme Court has ordered granting spousal benefits to same-sex partners of state workers. Our Legislature seems determined to figure a way out of it. Instead, they should be working on how to do it.

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Benefits should not be handed out like backstage passes to "same-sex partners, family members or roommates," as Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, suggests, nor should there be a two-tiered system by which a "partner" would have to pay for benefits that a "spouse" would not.

Instead, every state employee should be able to designate one "partner" to be eligible for benefits. Basically, it's the person most likely to be standing next to his or her hospital bed when he or she is dying. This "partner" would satisfy the criteria for common law marriage such as jointly held bank accounts, real property, common assumption of debt and liability - all of which are aspects of a life partnership that a rational person would expect. This designated partner should qualify for all the benefits now being given to spouses - period. That's what's fair.

We can argue until the next century about the sanctity of the partnership of a man and woman. But that discussion should take place in churches, not courtrooms. Our courts should protect the right of all of us to have a marriage ceremony of the religion of our choice, whether Sikh or Scientologist. But, legally, all life partnerships should be treated equally, Lutheran and Las Vegas alike. Because religion is personal. It has to be. It is the journey of each of us to a higher truth. It simply can't be legislated. There is no such thing as involuntary enlightenment.

And let's face it, gay people exist. That guy who plays "Jack" on "Will and Grace" is never going to be heterosexual, ever, no matter how many times he watches "Kelly's Heroes." Plus, they are not just comic relief. They are real human beings, who want real relationships. Most of us know at least one person who is just plain gay. Maybe it is your brother, sister or friend. Maybe it is a state employee in a long-term partnership with someone whose life could be saved if benefits were available. If life partners meet every legal requirement for common law marriage, but are denied this status because of what my minister thinks, then aren't we all at my minister's mercy? What about the usurers, the adulterers and the worshipers of graven images? Maybe making them second-class citizens will put them back on the path.

I mean, that's what we're really talking about here, isn't it? When we're sitting in church many of us believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. But when we make laws out of beliefs we are no better that the Muslim mullahs, whipping and beheading the evil out of the masses. Because the masses never get enlightened. Masses rage and riot and burn books and flags. You never see the masses sitting down for a reasonable discussion over coffee and Krispy Kremes. Masses get mad, mostly. Sometimes because they rightly feel they are being unfairly discriminated against.

If we strip religious belief from our laws regarding life partners, aren't we simply discriminating on the basis of sex? Our laws legally define married partners as next-of-kin, with all the legal rights you would expect when you are standing over your spouse in that final hospital bed. What are we saying with laws that deny the legitimacy of same-sex partnerships? That those of who choose a same-sex partner deserve to be punished on Earth because we think they are going to Hell? Is that legally defensible? Is it even Christian?

• Terry Haines is a resident of Kodiak.

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