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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 1 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 31
Alaska Supreme Court OKs same-sex couple survivor benefits
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Alaska Supreme Court OKs same-sex couple survivor benefits

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on July 25 that same-sex partners should be eligible for survivor benefits even though the state constitution expressly defines marriage as 'only between one man and one woman.'

Using the narrow definition of 'widow' to exclude same-sex partners 'violates the surviving partner's right to equal protection under the law,' the state's high court ruled.

Deborah Harris, whose partner was murdered at the Anchorage hotel where both women worked, will now be entitled to the same survivor benefits as a married spouse would get. The Alaska Workers Compensation Board had originally turned down Harris's claim on the grounds that she was not legally married to her partner and therefore was not a 'widow' under Alaska law.

In their decision, the court noted that Harris and her partner, Kerry Fadely, had been in 'an exclusive, committed, and financially interdependent relationship' spanning more than 10 years, and had jointly raised children from previous relationships.

'Debbie had a tragedy happen in her life - her longtime life partner was killed - then another tragedy was not being recognized for who she was - a life partner - by the legal system,' Harris's attorney Eric Croft said.

'Financially this is important, but it's important to recognize that same-sex couples deserve equal treatment,' he added.

While the Alaska Supreme Court has not ruled on the constitutionality of the state's ban on same-sex marriage, it ruled in April that same-sex couples must be afforded the same property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans that were previously given only to opposite-sex married couples.

On May 12, five same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state's discriminatory marriage law. Arguments in the case are scheduled for October 10.

A PPP poll done in January and February this year found that 47% of Alaska voters supported same-sex marriage, while 46% were opposed to the idea, and 7% were not sure.

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