The Alaska Supreme Court has reaffirmed the state constitution's fairness in a ruling that extends benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees. Gov. Frank Murkowski and lawmakers including an Eagle River Republican should back away from their pledges to overcome the ruling, and avoid plunging the state into a divisive and entirely unnecessary dark age.
The governor has said he is outraged and has directed the attorney general's office to work on overcoming the ruling. Sen. Fred Dyson is drafting legislation that borrows from an Ohio Constitution amendment that says political subdivisions may not be forced to extend the benefits of marriage to other unions.
Lost in the emotional reaction is the simple, obvious logic of the ruling: Equal protection of the law means everyone.
To go through the long and emotionally draining machinations of hauling out yet another constitutional amendment to restrict the rights of a specific group of citizens is backward and a waste of effort. Ironically, it was the state's first step in this direction - a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman - that got us here. Because gays and lesbians are now constitutionally barred from marriage in Alaska, some municipalities and the state don't extend health and other benefits to their partners. The court, in its unanimous decision, noted that no same-sex partners can apply for marriage benefits - because they can't marry - and that treating homosexual employees differently in a benefits package violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
Enough with the constitutional tinkering, already. It's time for Alaska to respect both its constitution and all of the people that it protects. Amending the document further to remove rather than enhance protections is perversely, undeniably un-American. The notion that treating same-sex couples fairly somehow weakens the institution of marriage has no grounding in reality. What is real is the fact that state and local governments employ qualified people who are barred from marriage, and who could be nudged toward accepting jobs with private-sector employers who increasingly extend benefits.
The court's decision was a no-brainer and should be treated as such. Arguments that extending benefits to same-sex partners is costly are a veil for the fact that some people don't want their taxes supporting families that are different from theirs - a dangerous standard and a slippery slope for human rights. When Juneau extended benefits to partners of its municipal employees in 2003, City Manager Rod Swope said, it did so both because it was the right thing to do and because the cost was negligible.
Alaska has more important problems to overcome than a court ruling that upholds equality under the law.