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Assembly to support gay benefits plan

Resolution opposes an ammendment to state's constitution

Posted: Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Members of Juneau's gay and lesbian community hope Alaskans will come out and oppose the Legislature's attempt to amend the state constitution to limit benefits for same-sex couples in a special election next month.

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The Juneau Assembly unanimously passed a resolution at its regular meeting Monday night opposing changes to the state constitution and voicing its support of continued health benefits for gay and lesbian city employees. Assembly members David Stone and Jeff Bush were absent from the meeting.

"It's a great statement to the Legislature, to one, say it's not a great move to amend the constitution," said lesbian Jennifer Mannix, a 15-year employee of the city of Juneau. "But also because that would trickle down and tell the city what to do, and that's not right."

The Legislature has called for a special election on April 3 for an advisory vote to amend the state constitution to limit employment benefits for same-sex employees. If passed next month, the issue would be put on the 2008 general election ballot.

Mary Alice McKeen said she is offended that the state wants to take away the ability of the municipality to make its own decision when it comes to providing for the well-being of its citizens.

"There are so many more important things that the state should be focused on," she said, including funding education, building a new gas pipeline, and dealing with the retirement benefits for all of Alaska's public employees.

McKeen said she is happy the Assembly continues to support all members of Juneau's diverse community.

"It does reflect their prior decision in 2003 that discrimination based on any characteristic based on anything other than merit is not (city) policy, so I think it was really great," she said.

Lin Davis, a lesbian who was just able to sign up in January for health benefits for her partner of 19 years, said the state would end up shouldering the bill for uninsured same-sex couples if it amended the state constitution to limit benefits.

"I'm in my 60s and my spouse is in her mid-50s, and we need the safety net of these benefits," she said.

The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that limiting benefits to same-sex partners of public employees violates the state's constitution.

Mannix said she is optimistic that the state will do the right thing.

"I think enough legislators appreciate that actually changing the constitution to specifically discriminate against one small minority group is a really bad precedent to set," she said. "I think they are smart enough to know better."

Nobody spoke out against the Assembly resolution Monday night.

In other news Monday, the Assembly unanimously passed the recommendation of the Committee of the Whole to hold a special election on June 12 for additional funding for the new high school in the Mendenhall Valley. The election is for approving bonds to fund an auditorium, a track and field, and for school safety improvements to Riverside Drive.

The finance committee will meet March 14 to discuss how to come up with the nearly $35,000 it will take to fund the special election for the new school.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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