Judge: State doesn't have to offer benefits to gay partners

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2001

ANCHORAGE - An Anchorage judge has ruled the state of Alaska and the city of Anchorage do not have to extend benefits to gay or lesbian partners of employees and retirees.

Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides ruled same-sex couples fall into the same legal category as unmarried heterosexual couples and neither are entitled to city or state benefits under current law.

Friday's ruling marks a loss for nine same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit demanding health insurance and pension benefits in 1999. Seven of the couples were from Juneau.

The lawsuit, filed by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, represents the interests of eight lesbian couples in which at least one partner works for the state. The other couple, two gay men, included an Anchorage city employee.

Lin Davis, a state Labor Department employee in Juneau, said she has earned the right to add to her health coverage her partner of 14 years, Maureen Longworth. A family physician, Longworth said her health care provider didn't cover specialist care she required in Seattle several years ago. Since then, she has had medical problems regularly, including major surgery, requiring out-of-pocket expenses of more than $15,000.

The state argued its policy against benefits for unmarried partners was intended to save money. State health insurance costs roughly $650 per month per employee and officials said premiums could go up over time if domestic partners become eligible because the number of claims would rise.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that, like married couples, they intended to stay together for life and were financially and emotionally responsible for each other.

The couples were unconstitutionally denied benefits because, unlike heterosexual couples, they don't have the option of getting married, Alaska Civil Liberties Union attorney Allison Mendel said Saturday. Voters in 1998 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

Mendel faulted Joannides' decision.

"She never explains why we're similarly situated with people that could get married if they wanted to," she said. "Clearly, when you made it illegal for same-sex couples to marry, what does that have to do with unmarried heterosexual couples? Nothing."

The AkCLU plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

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