Gay Couples Sue Alaska|Over Tax Exemptions

     (CN) – Three same-sex couples sued the state of Alaska on Tuesday, challenging its tax-assessment rules that they say discriminate against same-sex couples by denying them equal access to a property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans.

     “Plaintiffs are three gay and lesbian couples who live together in long-term, committed, independent, intimate relationships, with the intention of remaining in such relationships for life,” the lawsuit, filed in Alaska Superior Court, states.
     “Each couple owns a home located within … Anchorage, and at least one member of each couple qualifies for an exemption of property taxes under Alaska’s senior citizen and disabled veteran property tax exemption.”
     But the $150,000 tax exemption is not made available “on equal sums to qualifying individuals who live in same-sex domestic partnerships,” the lawsuit states.
     The couples same-sex partners only get half of the exemption available to opposite-sex couples because they are treated as roommates and not familie, according to the complaint..
     The Alaska Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the family health care coverage given to married state workers violated the state’s constitution’s equal protection clause.
     “Alaska law is clear that denying committed same-sex couples the same rights as married opposite-sex couples is unconstitutional,” said Tom Stenson of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, which is representing the couples. “For senior couples and disabled vets, every bit of savings counts. These couples should not have to pay more taxes than other families.”
          Julie Schmidt, 67, and Gayle Schuh, 62, have been together 33 years. They retired from their careers in education, sold their home in Illinois and bought a home in Eagle River, Alaska. They own a joint bank account.
“We are disappointed to learn that the senior tax exemption treats homeowners in same-sex partnerships differently and we cannot receive the full benefit of the exemption,” Schuh said in a statement.
Julie Vollick and Susan Bernard have been together for seven years and are raising four children. Vollick retired from the U.S. Air Force after 20 years of service, and has service-related disabilities.
          “I was proud to serve our country and defend our democratic values,” Vollick said in a statement. “All we want is the fairness I’ve fought to defend.”
          The third couple, Fred Traber, 62, and Larry Snider, 69, have been together for 28 years.
“We are proud of our relationship and are happy to stand up to ensure that our long-term commitment is treated fairly,” Traber said.
          The couples seek an order declaring partial tax exemptions for same-sex couples unconstitional.
     The lawsuit was filed by David Oesting, Roger Leishman and Ryan Derry, with Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, which is working with the ACLU of Alaska.

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