Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Lawmakers in Alaska have introduced a marriage constitutional amendment aimed at overriding an October court decision that gives spousal benefits to same-sex couples who are public employees.

House Majority Leader John Coghill introduced a resolution Friday to restrict the “rights, benefits, obligations, qualities or effects of marriage” to married couples.

An identical bill will be introduced this morning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, said an aide to committee chairman Sen. Ralph Seekins. The Senate measure is scheduled for a hearing this week.

To become law this year, the amendment has to pass both Alaskan legislative chambers with two-thirds majority votes and be approved by voters in November.

Republicans lead both chambers, but only by a small majority in the Senate.

The amendment is intended to trump a unanimous Oct. 28 decision by the Alaska Supreme Court that said public employees in same-sex domestic partnerships are entitled to health and other spousal benefits. In its ruling, the court noted that the 1998 marriage amendment “does not address the topic of employment benefits at all.”

The court stayed its decision to allow the state and city of Anchorage time to adjust their programs.

After the ruling, officials in Anchorage said they would comply with the ruling, but state officials were incensed. Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski called the ruling “shameful.”

Yesterday, Mr. Coghill said the court’s ruling was “off-base.”

In 1998, Alaskan voters passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, he said. In addition, state law already says same-sex relationships aren’t entitled to the benefits of marriage.

The proposed amendment would clarify in the constitution that the benefits of marriage are reserved for married couples, he said.

It’s just “arrogance” of the high court to overturn the will of the people, said state Sen. Fred Dyson, a Republican supporter of the amendment.

Homosexual rights advocates promised strong resistance to the new amendment.

State workers should have the right to health insurance for their families, regardless of whether they’re married or have a same-sex partner, said Carrie Evans, state legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Granting spousal benefits for same-sex domestic partners “is standard operating procedure for a lot of state governments,” she said, noting that the Montana Supreme Court granted such benefits to state university employees in 2004, even though voters passed a marriage amendment outlawing same-sex “marriage.”

The lawsuit was filed against the state and the city of Anchorage by the Alaska Civil Liberties Union on behalf of nine homosexual couples.

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