My Turn: Employee benefits shouldn't be up for a vote

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2006

I've worked lo these 23 years, a public servant toiling alongside straight people in relationships married and not. I have been in the very same same-sex relationship all those years and more - with a woman instead of a man - but still, am I not an employee?

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My tax dollars support the benefits of everyone else's significant partner married spouses, their children, their dependents - while receiving no such benefits for my partner whom I cannot marry. But am I not a similarly situated employee?

The Alaska Constitution already bans same-sex partners from marrying the person they love, so my getting health and survivor benefits, too, for the significant other that I love, would only be equally earned employee compensation. And am I not an employee?

Never before has the state put up an advisory million-dollar vote just to see what Alaskans think about employee benefits. Employee benefits haven't been voting material before, yet some legislators want such a vote just to try to ban benefits for people like me. But am I not an employee?

To those not wanting government to appear to support persons they disagree with for religious reasons, I say religious banishments are fine within religious organizations. That's their right. Churches can bar women priests, for example. But should women public employees likewise be banned from leadership positions to promote those church's beliefs? Freedom of religion is in the Constitution, which has to mean freedom "from" religion in order for all religious people to thrive. In other words, public employee benefits are to be free from religious discrimination. And am I not an employee?

Equal opportunity is a long-fought-for dream of America since our Colonial beginnings. Clearly the court's part in the checks and balances system of government isn't the evil some would make it out to be, or we'd still have national segregation.

I for one am grateful our courts are in the less publicly pressured position to more clearly see equality for what it can be. The balance of powers exists to further, not hinder, that dream for everyone - including public employees. And am I not an employee?

My fellow employees who are financially interdependent with their opposite-sex (married) partners have been given the earned employee benefit with which to provide for their most loved ones in both sickness and in health - and in death, too, via survivor benefits.

I have to believe the courts are right in this tussle with the Legislature, because since I'm constitutionally barred from marrying the person I love, isn't it only fair (equal) that I receive the same benefit as those not so barred? Because, am I not an employee?

I've worked my hardest as a public servant. I'm an active and loving part of my family. I'm active in my community and loyally support many American institutions - civic, religious and political. I believe in the Constitution's promise of equal protection, and the Declaration of Independence's dream of the pursuit of happiness. And I am a public employee.

So to Alaska legislators, one and all, I have to say, asking for more time from the courts to figure out equal protection specifics is one thing. But asking the majority public for a non-binding advisory-only, million-dollar election in the misguided hope they might vote against equal treatment of an employee minority is quite another.

• Sara Boesser is an employee of the city of Juneau.

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