A biblical view influences many on employment benefits ballot

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2007

For Christians such as Mike Shakespeare, the issue of providing employment benefits for same-sex couples is about more than marriage. It's about doing what's right. And the Bible tells him what's right.

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"We have what we call the standard, the Bible, and we all have to live by that," said Shakespeare, a Juneau property manager.

Shakespeare supports Tuesday's statewide advisory vote over employment benefits for same-sex partners of state and local government employees. The Alaska Legislature is asking the voters to say whether the constitution should be amended to bar such benefits.

While a majority of Alaska lawmakers oppose providing the benefits, the Alaska Supreme Court says the benefits are required under the constitution.

It would take not a just a majority, but two-thirds of each house of the Legislature to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot. Opponents of the benefits don't have such a majority now.

They hope, however, that they'll be able to use a strong show of public opposition to win the two-thirds they need.

Shakespeare and other advocates say they are expecting a strong vote for the amendment statewide, although not necessarily in Juneau.

Even so, many Juneau voters have strong views on the issue.

Providing government benefits to same-sex partners is an endorsement of homosexual marriage, said Juneau's Honda Head.

That's something that she's morally opposed to.

"It's just as disgusting to me as being married to an animal," she said.

Moral beliefs based on religion ran all through Alaska's debate on gay marriage, including the 1998 constitutional amendment that barred gay marriage in the state.

When that amendment passed, it actually opened the door for same-sex partner benefits. Gay and lesbian employees of the city of Anchorage and the state sued, saying they were being treated unfairly: They were unable to get benefits without being married, and they were barred from getting married.

That suit led to the Supreme Court decision, and gay couples began receiving benefits at the start of this year.

The 1998 amendment was bankrolled by $500,000 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And the Alaska Conference of Bishops has come out in favor of a constitutional amendment barring the benefits, calling it a defense of marriage.

"We ask you to carefully consider the importance of the institution of marriage to the common good and to vote in the statewide advisory election on April 3rd," the bishops' statement read.

The conference is the public voice of the Roman Catholic Church in Alaska on public issues related to the moral and social teaching of the church.

Juneau resident Sid Heidersdorf said he was motivated to speak out by the Supreme Court's decision. He said providing the benefits of marriage to people who aren't married harms an institution that society needs.

"They have created marriage, in a sense, without calling it that," he said. "I would view that as an attack on marriage."

The vote Tuesday comes at a crucial time, Heidersdorf said.

"I think we're on the verge now of deciding whether our society is going to accept and celebrate homosexual relationships," he said.

A Catholic, Heidersdorf said his views come from the church.

"I follow the teachings of my church, which I think is the correct road to happiness in this life."

The 70-year-old retired radiological physicist has lived in Juneau more than 40 years.

Honda said her views stem from what she felt was best for society, not opposition to homosexuals. She said encouraging same-sex marriages was bad for society.

"I have had, over the years, friends who are homosexuals," she said. "I could almost cry for them. They have nothing to look forward to in this life or the next life. I hurt for them."

Shakespeare doesn't mind debating proponents of same-sex benefits on religious grounds, especially when they quote scripture.

"What they don't understand is it's making them look even worse, in my opinion," he said. "The more they seem to wiggle around in this religious atmosphere that's foreign to them, it's like quicksand. They just go down and down."

The U.S. Constitution bars an establishment of religion, Shakespeare acknowledged, but it also calls for majority rule.

"You can't tell the religious that we can't vote," he said.

Shakespeare said he expects the measure to pass and hoped it would persuade legislators to change the constitution.

"I do expect that these people who are under the law would respect that the majority has now voted," he said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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