"A Horror Story ... Only Made Worse"
On Oct. 29, 2011, Deborah Harris woke up and had breakfast with her partner of over a decade, Kerry Fadely. It was a normal morning; a normal breakfast, except that two hours later Fadely, 55, would be dead -- shot while working at the Millennium Alaskan Hotel in Anchorage by a disgruntled employee whom she had fired nine days earlier.
What could only be considered a horror story was only made worse in the months ahead. As Harris dealt with the chaos and confusion surrounding the death, financial issues loomed.
Despite a mutually loving relationship that involved living together, sharing incomes and raising children together, Harris was unable to receive death benefits under Alaska workers' compensation laws. The law only allows benefits to widows, widowers and children. Alaska law defines widowers and widows as "husbands" and "wives." Since it's illegal for a same-sex couple to be married in Alaska, Harris had no claim to Fadely's benefits, which are designed to help pay for funeral costs and assist families during the grieving process.
Lambda Legal filed a legal challenge with the Alaska Workers' Compensation Board yesterday. We claim that excluding same-sex couples from eligibility for survivor benefits violates the guarantees of equality secured by both the Alaska and U.S. Constitutions.
Staff Attorney Peter Renn tells the Dispatch:
It's not about marriage, it's about basic rights. It's how you would want to be treated if you woke up one day in Debbie's shoes, because tragedy doesn't discriminate and neither should the state.
Read the article here.
Find out more about the case and watch a video of Lambda Legal client Deborah Harris here.