Court enforces benefits deadline

State ordered to include same-sex partners by Jan. 1

Posted: Wednesday, December 20, 2006

ANCHORAGE - The Alaska Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the state to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees by the Jan. 1 deadline it had earlier set, refusing to delay the implementation of benefits any further.

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The high court said regulations earlier submitted by the state, which outline steps same-sex couples must meet, were valid.

"This is fantastic. Now we know that benefits will be in place as of Jan. 1," said Michael MacLeod-Ball, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. The ACLU had filed the initial lawsuit.

Department of Law spokesman Mark Morones could not immediately be reached on his cell phone Tuesday evening. A message left after hours at Gov. Sarah Palin's office was not immediately returned.

It was not a total victory for the ACLU. The high court ruled Tuesday that a lower court overstepped its authority when it ordered the state to revise and expand proposed rules to comply with constitutional standards. In its October 2006 ruling, Superior Court Judge Stephanie Joannides sided with the ACLU in finding that the regulations proposed by the state were too restrictive.

That wasn't the point, the high court said Tuesday.

"Constitutional review of such details at the remedial stage of this case would hamper the primary goal of expeditious compliance and exceed the scope of the remedies sought in the original complaint," the court wrote, referring to a 1999 lawsuit filed against the state by public employees and their same-sex partners.

"As long as the regulations attempt to offer the benefits mandated by our opinion in a rational and non-arbitrary manner, they must be approved," the court wrote. "Any new constitutional questions arising from the details of the implementing regulations must be asserted by future challenge in separate proceedings."

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