Columns 2007

Health care benefits for same sex couples…what would Jesus do?

As the new legislature convenes in Juneau, at least some members are determined to make health benefits for same sex partners an issue whether the public wants it to be or not.  According to an article in the Anchorage Daily News recently, Representative Mike Kelly of Fairbanks is quoted as saying, “The people of Alaska are sound asleep on this and they better wake up.” Adding to the general fun being had up there where the cold seems to be freezing brains at an astonishing rate even for legislative gray matter, House Majority Leader John Coghill of North Pole added that he would introduce legislation to strip benefits from everyone, stating, “That’s the only solution we’ve got.”

Well, no, it’s not, The other solution would be to provide these benefits and get on with some of the real problems facing this state instead of creating ones that don’t exist.

I think the best moment was when John Coghill added that he wished the governor had defied the law and gone to jail to defend whatever it is he thinks he’s defending here, despite the fact that such an action could have led to a constitutional crisis.

So let’s go back and see what all this fuss is about.  The people of Alaska amended their constitution to say that marriage can only be defined as the uniting of people of the opposite sex.  Fine.  What in the world does that have to do with benefits?  No one is trying an end run around the constitution and saying that this makes people married.  It just extends to same sex couples benefits they can never receive any other way because they are banned from marrying.

Some people ask why these benefits wouldn’t apply to opposite sex partners living together without the benefit of marriage. Simple. They can marry.  No constitutional amendment has taken that right from them. They have a way to access state benefits for their partner that is clearly denied to same sex couples. It’s the same as singling out a group of our citizens and denying them the right to learn to read and then saying you have to read to vote.  It’s called discrimination.

But let’s set aside the legal issue for a moment and look at the human issue.  Health care costs are exorbitant.  Caring for an ill person in this great country of ours is almost impossible without insurance.  Many people in the lower middle class fall into that great hole in our safety net where the don’t qualify for government programs because they make too much money but they aren’t working for an employer who can afford to offer them coverage.

Wanting to take care of your life partner is a human impulse we can all relate to.  Why would this make anyone so angry that they would jeopardize the health care of others to prove some point?

Well, I hate to bring this up but it seems that Christianity is once again being designated the fall guy for why we cannot allow same sex couples to receive state benefits.

I’m certainly not qualified to get into a theological discussion with people on this, nor do I want to get into a discussion of separation of church and state or the fact that, once again, this is not about same sex marriage. I simply want to pose one question to the Christians whose panties are in a knot over this.  And that question is simply, “What would Jesus do?”

The God of the Old Testament was a vengeful god.  I always thought that the big change that Jesus brought to us was the love and compassion he showed to everyone. The only time he got angry was at the moneychangers in the temple. And that should certainly give some televangelists cause for concern.

The poor, the lepers, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, all were welcome to come to Jesus.  So I’m betting that if Jesus were alive today, he would respond to the request for health care benefits for same sex couples with kindness and love. I’m even willing to wager that he would stand outside our legislative halls in Juneau with same sex couples holding up a sign demanding they be treated in a truly Christian manner.

I am honestly unaware of the passages in the New Testament where Jesus adds any caveats to his love for all of us, sinners and saints alike. His message, I believe, goes something like this, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Why do some people find that so hard to accept?