One of the hot-button topics this election season is same-sex marriage. In Illinois we passed a law in 1996 that says marriage is only between a man and a woman. However, lawsuits are working their way through Cook County courts for refusing to marry same-sex couples or recognize out-of-state gay marriages. What does this have to do with workers’ compensation you might ask?
The state of Alaska is similar to ours in that the state does not perform same-sex marriages. That issue is moving through the Alaska court system as a same-sex partner seeks to collect workers’ compensation survivor benefits. The woman’s partner was killed on-the-job by a disgruntled employee.
The 55-year-old woman was shot and killed while at work. An employee that allegedly shot the woman was arrested and has been charged with murder. The same-sex partner of the 55-year-old applied for workers’ comp survivor benefits but was denied. Apparently Alaska workers’ compensation law only allows benefits to widows, widowers and children. In Alaska a widow or widower is a husband or wife, not a civil union same-sex partner. The 55-year-old’s partner has since lost her home.
The water is muddied by a previous court ruling in Alaska which held that although the state does not need to permit same-sex marriage, it cannot deny employee benefits to domestic partners. This seems to be in conflict with the Defense of Marriage Act which has held that same-sex partners do not have access to federal survivor benefits such as social security.
It is easy to see how a similar situation could happen in Cook County or Illinois. Should any surviving spouse or domestic partner be denied workers’ compensation survivor benefits, it might be a wise idea to consult with a legal professional to determine what options might be available.