My turn: There are good reasons for a no vote on April 3

Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2007

It seems so clear to me as I approach retirement next month: All employees should receive equal compensation for equal work. As a woman in a now 26-year relationship with a woman partner, 24 of those years spent working for the city of Juneau, that means I sincerely believe I've earned the same health and retirement package as my fellow employees.

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Equal pay, equal benefits. That's what the Alaska Constitution says. Some people want to change that. They want to change the constitution so my 24 years of work would leave my partner with no health insurance and no pension, even though I've done the same job and have the same family obligations as my co-workers. So, after 24 years of public service, I have to vote "no" on April 3 to keep the benefits I've already worked so hard for. How odd is that?

And how odd is it that the Legislature should imagine the constitution as a tool to micro-manage business - state and city business in this case. Odd because benefit packages are the realm of unions and courts and management decisions, not constitutional amendments.

Those who misrepresent this vote as revisiting the already in-place constitutional ban on same-sex marriage are wasting our money: In 1998 same-sex marriage was banned in Alaska, so this year's $1.2 million advisory vote on benefits will have absolutely no effect on who marries and who doesn't. Marriage is already restricted to one man one woman in Alaska, period. What's at issue is the benefit package for those who cannot marry - same-sex partners.

Since the vote isn't about marriage, but instead is about equal pay for equal work, and in particular about whether or not benefits should be taken away from those who are barred from marriage, why vote no on April 3?

Here are just a few reasons:

A "no" vote is financially wise: Better benefit packages draw and retain more employees. That's why three-fourths of the Fortune 500 businesses offer domestic partner benefit plans. It's good financial business sense to do so. If it's good enough for the Fortune 500, it should be good enough for public employment in Alaska.

A "no" vote is family-supportive: many smaller businesses and nonprofits also have domestic partner benefits as a way to support employees and their families. In my retirement mode, I'm delighted to find AARP even offers them: AARP knows families come in many formats. If domestic partner benefits are good enough for AARP family members, they should be good enough for public employee families in Alaska.

And a no vote is biblically supportable for many. Given that not all Alaskans are of Judeo-Christian belief, still, many are. Therefore, I offer my belief that the Bible's welcome is big enough to include equal treatment of public employees.

As to the few texts that some interpret as condemning homosexuality, it's clear that religious people reevaluate and don't take literally many biblical texts. For example, the Bible repeatedly says those who loan money at interest must be put to death. Jesus even overturned money-lenders' tables in the temple. But there's (rightly) no constitutional amendment vote before us to deny benefits to bankers. Clearly, the essence of biblical adherence changes over time.

I find Christianity's welcoming spirit in what is perhaps the Bible's most famous health-care parable - the Good Samaritan story. In it, the Samaritan finds an injured man beside the road, a man from a different (and despised) group of people. A priest and another religiously devout man had passed by the near-death man for religiously acceptable reasons of their time. But the Samaritan stops, gives first aid, takes the injured man to an inn and promises to pay for all expenses until he recovers.

For me, the Good Samaritan story is a clear Biblical call for equal health benefits for people we may not religiously agree with.

I hope as many Alaskans as possible will go to the polls and vote "no" on April 3's expensive, unnecessary advisory vote.

Vote "no" for financial, family and yes - religious reasons.

• Sara Boesser is a Juneau resident and employee of the city of Juneau.

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