Northern Exposure: How an Alaska Law Denying Benefits to Same-Sex Partners of State Employees Turned a Lesbian Mom into an Activist. (Behind the Headlines)

Article excerpt

Mari Billington, a lesbian stay-at-home mom, articulated the frustrations of gay and single parents across the nation when she took the state of Alaska to task on May 22. Billington filed a friend-of-the-court brief as part of a lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union is bringing against the state. "I need health insurance--which I can't get from my partner's taxpayer-funded employer because we aren't married and I can't get from the Medicaid `safety net' because we're treated like we are married, "Billington said. "I want our state supreme court to hear exactly how this affects real families."

Alaska bans same-sex marriage but also declares that only married state employees can get health, pension, and insurance benefits for their partners. At the same time, the state's Medicaid program may deny benefits to someone because they have a same-sex partner. The ACLU's suit does not seek to invalidate the ban but argues that using marriage as the litmus test for benefits constitutes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender. The Advocate talked to Billington, 44, about what sparked her newfound activism.

What triggered your role in the Alaska case?

I had a medical bill this winter that was higher than expected. I was denied coverage under Medicaid because we were categorized as an unmarried couple [rather than two single people]. But we're only unmarried because the state won't allow us to be married. Talk about a catch-22. It just really played on my sense of injustice, and I decided to do something about it.

Meanwhile, you're raising a child.

Our daughter is covered by my partner's health insurance. So at least I don't have to worry about her. I'm a full-time mom, and I don't think I should be penalized for that. It's taken a little time to get used to not working in a regular job. But it's also been delightful for us to spend so much time with our daughter. …

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