- Associated Press - Friday, June 5, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Same-sex couples under Alaska’s employee union health care plan will no longer have access to those benefits unless they are married.

The decision by the Alaska State Employees Association’s board of trustees comes after an October ruling legalized same-sex marriage in Alaska. Starting July 1, the health plan will only be available for couples that are married.

In April, the board sent letters to same-sex couples utilizing the state’s health benefits plan to inform them of the changes, reported the Alaska Dispatch News (https://bit.ly/1cBVlyb).

Board Chairman Mike Williams said the board’s decision is part of an effort to “treat all couples the same now.”

Williams said domestic partnerships, either with same or opposite-sex partners, are not eligible because the state does not legally recognize them.

Alaska began offering benefits to same-sex couples in 2005 after a state Supreme Court ruled that not extending benefits to couples solely because they couldn’t marry violated their equal protection rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska first brought the lawsuit forward.

ACLU of Alaska executive director Joshua Decker supported the union’s decision, noting that the point of the ACLU lawsuit was to give same-sex couples equal protection.

“Equality is what we’ve always been fighting for,” Decker said. “It’s perfectly legal for Alaska to say to all loving and committed couples, whether opposite or same sex, if you want to get the full suite of employee benefits you have to be married.”

The board of trustees moved forward with their decision despite a pending ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court that could overturn Alaska’s same-sex marriage ruling.

Williams said fewer than 20 couples will be affected by the change. If the ruling is overturned, couples will have 60 days to return to the plan if they choose.

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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