Thursday, July 07, 2011

How Will Sarah Palin’s Actions on Same Sex Benefits Play in Iowa?

The whoopla over the docu-drama The Undefeated continues and with the release of the movie, there is talk that Sarah Palin is getting in the presidential race. And it looks like Iowa is the focus in the speculation.

But when you consider Iowan’s had seen their state supreme court over-turn a law banning same-sex marriage in 2009 and having to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, how will social conservatives in Iowa feel about Sarah Palin’s handling of same-sex benefits?

Respondents described as ‘very conservative’ The biggest minefield among the 10 issues is civil unions. Fifty-eight percent would outright reject a candidate who favors them. Thirteen percent would consider a candidate who supports civil unions, and 27 percent say it’s no real problem. Two percent aren’t sure.


Iowans have been deeply divided over rights for same-sex couples since a unanimous 2009 Iowa Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage.

Evangelical Christians last year led a successful campaign to oust the three justices who participated in the ruling who were up for a retention vote last fall. This year, a small group of Republicans in the Iowa House wanted to impeach the remaining four justices who handed down the decision, but didn’t have enough support from their fellow representatives. Republican legislators continue to seek a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

For Romney supporters, civil unions are far less of a deal-killer (35 percent) than for supporters of Michele Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman (80 percent).

Here in Alaska, we know what effect a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage can have.

In a civil lawsuit against the Municipality of Anchorage, the Alaska Supreme Court stated the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages, justified unmarried same-sex couples getting benefits from public employers:

ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Alaska Supreme Court ruled Friday it is unconstitutional to deny benefits to the same-sex partners of public employees, a victory for gay rights advocates in one of the first states to pass a constitutional ban on gay marriage.


But Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski was "outraged" by the ruling and directed the attorney general's office to determine the best way to overturn it, said his spokeswoman, Becky Hultberg.

The high court said the disputed benefits plans will stand until a remedy is reached in future court hearings. Nine gay or lesbian government workers and their partners in 2002 joined the Alaska American Civil Liberties Union in appealing the lower court ruling.

The case stems from a 1999 lawsuit filed against the state and the Municipality of Anchorage after voters passed a constitutional amendment blocking state recognition of gay marriage.

In the 2001 Superior Court ruling overturned Friday, Judge Stephanie Joannides said the state and city did not have to extend benefits to same-sex couples, equating them with unmarried heterosexual couples who also are not eligible. The high court said that comparison failed to acknowledge the fact that heterosexual couples can choose to get married, while homosexual couples cannot.

In response to the Alaska Supreme Court, the Alaska Legislature crafted a bill that would have banned benefits going to same-sex couples but the bill was vetoed by Governor Palin:

The Legislature passed a bill in a November special session that would have barred the commissioner of administration from taking action on the new benefits plan.

Rep. John Coghill, R-North Pole, sponsored the bill. In a phone interview Thursday, he said Palin faced a constitutional dilemma but that he’s still disappointed by her veto.

“I would have like to have seen her stand up to the courts,” Coghill said.

The statement from the Palin administration said the veto doesn’t mean Palin suddenly agrees with the Supreme Court, which ruled that the state has to offer the benefits starting Jan. 1.

“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 statement said.

Coghill said he’s interested in a new plan that would allow state employees to designate one person -- maybe a same-sex partner, but also possibly a family member or roommate -- who would be eligible for state-paid benefits. But the employee would have to pay to add that person to their benefits.

On Dec. 20, Palin signed a bill that calls for the public to vote on whether or not there should be a constitutional amendment denying benefits to same-sex couples.

The constitutional amendment denying same-sex benefits was an issue that the candidates were asked about in a voter's guide.

In answers to the question, Sarah Palin answered yes to a constitutional ban– in the same voter guide, I qualified my answer to the same question by pointing to the 8th Circuit Court.

Because the lawsuit opened the federal claim door by including the United States Supreme Court Lawrence vs. Texas and Romer vs. Evans decisions in briefs, I indicated that the 8th circuit had addressed the legal issues surrounding same sex issues and the Legislature was on sound legal ground to enact a law denying the benefits.

Arguably, Palin erroneously vetoed the law and as a result, the legislature could not test a faulty decision handed down by the Alaska Supreme Court.

Moreover, given Palin’s rationale behind her veto, the same rationale could have applied to her support of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex benefits.

Since the proposed constitutional amendment would go directly against the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling, Palin’s veto from a legal point, was illogical and poorly thought out.

And out of all of the legislative wrangling, an advisory vote was conducted in April 2007 and the vote supporting a constitutional amendment had a slight majority.

But with the help of Democrats like my opponent Mike Doogan, the constitutional amendment process died under the Palin administration.

Later when Palin became the V.P. nominee, news stories emerged stating she supported same-sex benefits. The stories were shot down by Media Matters.

SUMMARY: The Associated Press reported that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin "opposes gay marriage -- constitutionally banned in Alaska before her time -- but exercised a veto that essentially granted benefits to gay state employees and their partners." However, the AP did not note that Palin stated that she vetoed the bill because the Alaska attorney general had advised her that it was unconstitutional, not because she believed same-sex partners of public employees should receive benefits.

SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Debra Saunders and CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck both falsely claimed that Gov. Sarah Palin supports benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. In fact, while Palin did veto a bill that would have prevented state officials from granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples, she stated that she did so because the Alaska attorney general had advised her that the bill was unconstitutional, not because she supported spousal benefits for same-sex couples. She has also reportedly said that she would support a ballot question banning benefits for same-sex couples.

The Media Matters stories jumped-the-gun because Palin in a debate with Biden stated that she would not support the same sex benefits if it brought the definition of marriage closer to include same sex marriage, but she did follow Biden’s lead when Biden stated:

Absolutely. Do I support granting same-sex benefits? Absolutely positively. Look, in an Obama-Biden administration, there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.

The fact of the matter is that under the Constitution we should be granted -- same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, et cetera. That's only fair.


But I also want to clarify, if there's any kind of suggestion at all from my answer that I would be anything but tolerant of adults in America choosing their partners, choosing relationships that they deem best for themselves, you know, I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.

But in that tolerance also, no one would ever propose, not in a McCain-Palin administration, to do anything to prohibit, say, visitations in a hospital or contracts being signed, negotiated between parties.

(emphasis added)

Palin punted the legal issue surrounding same-sex benefits to the voters when she vetoed the law crafted by the legislature.

So how will Palin’s handling of the same-sex benefits issue be looked at by social conservatives in Iowa?

It remains to be seen if it becomes an issue.

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