Here's an early version of tomorrow's story:
A bill that sought to block the state from giving public employee benefits such as health insurance to same sex couples is dead -- vetoed by Gov. Sarah Palin Thursday.
On Dec. 19, the Alaska Supreme Court directed the state to offer benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees. Palin, a Republican who does not support gay marriage, said she was forced to make her first veto because the court’s ruling made the bill unconstitutional.
“Signing this bill would be in direct violation of my oath of office,” Palin said in a prepared statement Thursday night.
For supporters, the Supreme Court ruling was considered a victory for gay rights and civil liberties. To opponents, it equated same-sex partners with married couples despite the state’s ban on gay marriage.
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.
Palin’s veto wasn’t a sure thing, said Allison Mendel, a private lawywer who handled an Alaska Civil Liberties Union lawsuite that led to the Supreme Court ruling.
“There was a lot of doubt. And she put off doing it for awhile, obviously studying the issue.”