Saturday, April 29, 2006

Gay Benefits Amendment Headed For Full State Senate Vote

Synopsis: On Friday April 28th, the Alaska State Senate's Finance Committee, by a 4-3 vote, narrowly approved SJR20 (not to be confused with the recent SB20), a proposed constitutional amendment reversing last fall's Alaska Supreme Court decision mandating health benefits for gay partners of public employees. See KTUU and the Anchorage Daily News for media stories.
The bill languished in commitee for several weeks, apparently because the original version was considered by some to be too restrictive. It would have amended the Alaska Constitution's ban on gay marriage, passed overwhelmingly by Alaskan voters in 1998, to include formally denying health and other spousal benefits to homosexual partners of state employees. The revised version still overturns the Court's mandate, but would permit employers to offer benefits at their discretion. The benefits were ordered by the state Supreme Court last fall on the basis of the state's "equal protection" clause, since, in their view, the ban on gay marriage automatically prevented gay couples from being eligible for the same benefits as legally-married couples.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is responsible for bringing the lawsuit on behalf of nine same-sex couples that resulted in the Supreme Court's order. Executive Director Michael MacLeod-Ball, who was prevented from publicly testifying before the committee because he'd already testified at a previous related hearing, said he continues to oppose the proposed amendment on constitutional grounds. "It changes the language from mandatory discrimination to permissive discrimination and it's pretty much the same thing," he said in a phone interview after the hearing. However, Kevin Clarkson, an Anchorage attorney hired by the Legislative Council to work on the measure, said the resolution would put the judiciary in its place and not ahead of Alaskans.

About 30 people did speak before the committee, all opposing the measure. Michael Burke, rector of Saint Mary's Episcopal Church in Anchorage, said church and civil law recognizes the "complexity of human relationships." He stated, "I believe there are threats to the family unit today that are real and substantial, but they don't come from long-term, stable, monogamous, lifelong, loving relationships whether they are straight or whether they are gay and lesbian." Margot Knuth, a former state employee, said the measure was not only divisive but ambiguous. She pointed out that nothing in the language of the amendment specifically refers to domestic relationships or partnerships.

Although no supporters testified in person, Jim Minnery, president of the Alaska Family Council, e-mailed a letter that said, "the people of Alaska deserve to vote on this critical issue." The e-mail, which listed 101 pastors from 30 communities around the state, was supportive the original resolution. Jim Minnery's activities are further discussed in a previous post.

A resolution to amend the constitution must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature and by voters in a general election. SJR20's next stop is the full Senate.

Analysis: Two other issues literally jump off the page. First, compare the tolerance exhibited by Ralph Seekins (pictured above) with the intolerance manifested by pro-gay forces. When Senator Seekins found the proposed constitutional amendment to be too restrictive, he loosened up the language to allow greater employer discretion. Yet the pro-gay forces, who claim to promote "tolerance", demonize opponents as "haters", "bigots", and "homophobes", and use the court system to bypass the people and preclude public debate, claiming that gay marriage and spousal benefits for homosexual partners are "human rights issues" to be considered beyond debate. Organized Jewish lobbies use the same tactics in the promotion and protection of the "official" version of the Holocaust, and the NAACP has used the same tactics in their war against the Confederate battle flag as well as the deification of Martin Luther King.

The other issue is that no one showed up in person to testify in favor of the amendment. Those of us who favor traditional American values need to pry ourselves away from the TVs and keyboards and get more active. This means educating ourselves on the issues and confronting opponents in public venues. Nearly 700,000 Latinos marched in L.A. in support of illegal immigration; where was the opposition? The failure to provide visible opposition is interpreted by the other side and may be considered by the State Senate to be acceptance. Contact our State Senators and express your support of SJR20.

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