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Alaska may make gay partners 'family'

Posted: August 25, 2013 - 12:11am

JUNEAU — The Alaska State Personnel Board is considering including same-sex partners of state employees in the definition of “immediate family” for purposes of leave.

A proposed change in rules also would allow state employees to take leave due to a serious health condition of a same-sex partner.

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Alaska because of a state constitutional amendment. Nancy Sutch, a deputy director within the state Division of Personnel and Labor Relations, said by email that the proposed change in rules stems from a recent review of a 2005 Alaska Supreme Court decision.

That decision, in a case over health insurance and other benefits, found it is unconstitutional to offer valuable benefits to the spouses of public employees but not to same-sex domestic partners.

Sutch said the proposed regulations will set out requirements that are similar to those for insurance coverage, which have been in effect since 2006. Fuller descriptions of the proposed changes were not immediately available.

Same-sex partners of state employees currently can qualify to be on their insurance, provided certain requirements are met. For example, couples must certify, among other things, that they’ve been in committed, exclusive relationships for at least the past year and plan to continue that relationship indefinitely. They also must have lived together for at least a consecutive year and consider themselves to be members of each other’s immediate family.

For purposes of personal leave, though, the current definition of immediate family does not include same-sex partners.

The new proposal comes after attorneys, including those from the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, wrote in June to the commissioners of Corrections and Administration on behalf of a Juneau corrections officer who was seeking to take family leave to care for her partner, who was undergoing cancer treatment in Seattle. Sutch said the review of the court decision was prompted by this case.

She said the board will not be deciding whether same-sex couples are entitled to take leave under the Alaska Family Leave Act but rather deciding on the criteria that same-sex couples must meet to be eligible for leave.

Tom Stenson, legal director for ACLU of Alaska, said Friday that “you don’t have to be a great humanitarian or anything to realize people need support at those times and that is what the law is there to protect. People shouldn’t have to suffer through cancer alone because they’re gay.”

He said there’s often criticism that gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people are demanding special rights. But, “this is such a basic human right, to be able to support somebody when they’re getting medical treatment. It’s so fundamental it’s hard for me to see what the counter argument is.”

The personnel board plans to consider the changes at a Sept. 19 meeting in Anchorage.

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