A landmark decision was handed down Friday by the Alaska Supreme Court in favor of same-sex couples.
The victory, however, is a bittersweet one, waged by one woman, Deborah Harris, fighting in the memory of her murdered life partner, according to her attorney Eric Croft.
“Today, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of Debbie Harris and her right to have her long-term, committed relationship with Kerry recognized,” Croft said. “She’ll get worker’s compensation benefits for the death of her long-time partner.”
Harris had been denied death benefits after her partner of 10 years, Kerry Fadely, was gunned down while working at Millenium Hotel in 2011, due to the fact that the couple was not married at the time of Fadely’s death.
The decision to marry, Croft said, is used to determine the seriousness of a couple’s relationship. For heterosexual couples, only those who wed are granted death benefits.
But gay couples in Alaska aren’t given that choice, which is what Croft says led to the Alaska Supreme Court ruling that the Alaska Division of Worker’s Compensation’s denial of Harris’ death benefits was discriminatory and a violation of the equal protection clause.
“This was important to her financially, but more important in the recognition of what really was, which was they were life partners together and now the Supreme Court has recognized that,” Croft said.
The win, claimed by one woman will be felt by so many others, according to Drew Phoenix, executive director of Identity, Inc.
“Because of the sacrifice that Debbie has made, the struggle of hers over the last year and a half or so, other partners will not have to go through the pain and humiliation and struggle,” Phoenix said.
While Phoenix says this Supreme Court decision is no doubt cause for celebration, it is one of many steps to be taken on the Alaska LGBT community’s journey toward equality, he said.
“We’re having to, court ruling by court ruling, change that and go after same-sex benefits and same-sex partner benefits,” Phoenix said. “This is another victory to receiving all of those protections that should be ours by the U.S. and Alaska Constitution.
The Supreme Court’s decision applies to all government benefits, Croft said, which includes anything the government mandates or restricts like workers’ compensation and pensions or government employees.
The ruling is the latest victory in Alaska’s LGBT community’s fight for equality following a series of recent rulings and announcements in Alaska and across the nation. In April, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples in Alaska should be granted the same property tax exemptions as heterosexual couples.
On Monday, President Barack Obama gave employment protection to gay and transgender workers in the federal government.