Judge rules city, state does not have to extend benefits to gay partners

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Superior Court judge ruled that the city of Anchorage and the state of Alaska do not have to extend benefits to gay or lesbian partners of employees and retirees.

Judge Stephanie Joannides ruled that same-sex couples fall into the same legal category as unmarried male-female couples and neither are entitled to city or state benefits under current law.

Friday's ruling marks a disappointing loss for nine same-sex couples who filed a lawsuit demanding health insurance and pension benefits in 1999.

The lawsuit, filed by the AkCLU and the national ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, represents the interests of eight lesbian couples in which at least one partner works for the state. The other couple consists of two gay men, one of whom is an Anchorage city employee.

Lin Davis, a state Labor Department employee, says she has earned the right to add to her health coverage her partner of 14 years, Maureen Longworth. A family physician, Longworth said her health care provider didn't cover specialist care she required in Seattle several years ago. Since then, she has had medical problems regularly, including major surgery and requiring out-of-pocket expenses of more than $15,000.

The state argued that the state's policy against benefits for unmarried partners was intended to save money. State health insurance costs roughly $650 per month per employee. The premium doesn't change if more people are added, officials have said, but premiums could go up over time if domestic partners become eligible because the number of claims would rise.

The plaintiffs in the case argued that, like married couples, they intend to stay together for life and are financially and emotionally responsible for each other.

The couples were unconstitutionally denied benefits because, unlike heterosexual couples, they don't have the option of getting married, Alaska Civil Liberties Union attorney Allison Mendel said Saturday. Voters in 1998 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages.

Mendel faulted Joannides' decision.

''She never explains why we're similarly situated with people that could get married if they wanted to,'' she said. ''Clearly, when you made it illegal for same-sex couples to marry, what does that have to do with unmarried heterosexual couples? Nothing.''

The AkCLU plans to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

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