My turn: Protect the children with a 'no' vote

Same-sex partner benefits go toward more than some people think

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2007

When I was 10 years old riding my bike home from school along a narrow wooded road, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a car coming. I'm not sure whether the car hit me, or just forced a crash. I regained consciousness lying on the road.

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When I told my mother what happened, she reacted the way most mothers would: She moved heaven and earth to protect her child. I'm not sure how she did it, but we soon had a mile-long sidewalk between my neighborhood and the elementary school.

My elementary school is now a vocational high school, the cabbage field is filled with million-dollar houses and the sidewalk has largely been retaken by trees and weeds.

Many things have changed, but one thing remains constant - a mother's will to protect her children. I am reluctantly exposing my personal life to public view, and spending weekends and evenings working for a "no" on the advisory vote instead of enjoying my family life. I am doing this to protect my children. And, if you are persuaded I will be protecting many other children as well.

On April 3, you will have the opportunity in the advisory vote to recommend taking my employment benefits, and hence my ability to provide health insurance for one of my children. I have a blended family of me, my female partner, one biological child, and one stepchild. I can always insure my biological child, but to cover my stepchild, I need domestic partner benefits. My worst nightmare is to have a family in which one child has access to health care, and the other does not.

I work at the University of Alaska, which has provided domestic partner benefits to straight and same-sex couples for 11 years. Most people using these benefits are straight couples. Often young couples use these benefits for several years before they marry. Of course same-sex couples use these benefits too - and must rely on them in the long term, because the 1998 constitutional amendment (defining marriage as between a man and a woman) makes their marriage permanently impossible.

The domestic partner benefits have added little to the cost of the benefits program, about 1.5 percent. Part of the reason may be that there are stringent standards to qualify for benefits. In addition to living together for 12 months before applying, partners must show serious financial and legal commitment. For example, my partner has a durable power of attorney allowing her to dispose of all my property. We have a joint bank account, and we jointly own a vehicle. She is a beneficiary of my life insurance. If I am incapacitated, I have given her the legal power to make the decision to extend or end my life. She has done the same for me. That's a heavy legal and financial commitment. The State of Alaska uses the same standards to qualify partners for benefits.

The cost of providing benefits is very low. And what are the benefits? University officials testified before the Senate that offering the benefits is necessary to stay competitive in recruiting and retaining talent. It is fact that university employees who have domestic partners write grants which bring tens of thousands, if not millions of dollars into our community. That money goes into the community, supporting the local economy. Should we drive these employees and their families away?

The advisory vote asks a focused question: Should we amend the constitution to prohibit employment benefits being paid to families of same-sex employees? Since it is legally impermissible to outright discriminate against gays, a constitutional amendment has been drafted and introduced that would take benefits and any acknowledgment of relationship away from all unmarried couples, same-sex or straight, including those with children.

A mother's need to protect her children is one of the strongest forces in all creation. Nobody who believes in family values would try to undermine that. For the sake of all Alaskan families, please vote no on the April 3 advisory vote.

• Jeanne Laurencelle is a resident of Fairbanks.

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