One reason it's a happy new year

A Jan. 1 victory for lesbian and gay employees of Alaska.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Published January 3, 2007 12:24AM (EST)

Here's some good news to start 2007: Congratulations are due to Lin Davis, a job counselor for the state of Alaska, who has spent seven years suing her employer for domestic-partner benefits. As of Jan. 1, 2007, Davis' partner of more than 18 years, Maureen Longworth, is finally eligible to receive the same benefits that husbands and wives of state employees do. Some 90 other state employees will also be able to claim the benefits for their partners.

Davis and Longworth, along with eight other couples, filed suit in 1999 with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that benefits such as health insurance should be extended to same-sex partners, the Associated Press reports. More than a year ago, the state Supreme Court found it unconstitutional for Alaska to offer benefits to husbands and wives without extending them to same-sex couples. The court declared that because lesbians and gays cannot marry in Alaska, denying them benefits given to the hetero husbands and wives of state employees deprives them of equal protection, which is guaranteed under Alaska's Constitution, according to 365Gay.com.

Even after the state Supreme Court ruling, the Republican-controlled state Legislature struggled mightily to find a way to stop the benefits from going to couples like Davis and Longworth. But ultimately, Gov. Sarah Palin, Alaska's first female governor, vetoed a bill that would have blocked the benefits. Palin didn't do so on principle: She, too, is opposed to extending the benefits to the partners of lesbian and gay employees, but she said her attorney general advised her that not vetoing the bill would mean violating her oath of office to uphold the state's Constitution, according to the AP.

Lin originally filed the lawsuit on principle; in 1999, Longworth had her own health insurance from her own job. Since then, though, Longworth has lost her job, and hence her benefits, so now she urgently needs the coverage. "We just want to be able to take care of each other, especially in these older decades of our lives," Davis, who is in her 60s, told the AP. Like the story of the late Laurel Hester, a lesbian cop in New Jersey who successfully fought to leave her pension benefits to her partner, Lin and Longworth's case finally has a happy ending.

Yet, the matter is not entirely resolved. Upon the veto, Palin's office issued a statement: "It is the Governor's intention to work with the legislature and to give the people of Alaska an opportunity to express their wishes and intentions whether these benefits should continue." The Legislature may decide to amend the state's Constitution to deny benefits to gays and lesbians. In April, Alaska voters will vote on whether their representatives should do so.

Alaska already has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Here's hoping that Alaskans will draw the line at denying health insurance to the longtime partner of a 60-something job counselor.


Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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