After Woman is Gunned Down, Her Partner is Considered a Stranger

An Alaskan woman whose same-sex partner was shot and killed is going to court to fight Alaska’s ban on same-sex couples accessing survivor benefits.

On October 29, 2011, Kerry Fadely was gunned down at her place of work, the Millennium Alaskan Hotel in Anchorage. Kerry’s same-sex partner of 10 years, Debbie Harris, per state and federal law, is denied survivor benefits because, in legal terms, the couple are rendered strangers.

On September 24, 2012, Lambda Legal, acting on Debbie Harris’ behalf, filed papers with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board challenging its denial of survivor benefits. The board cannot decide matters of constitutional law but must be petitioned before the claim can advance to an appeals board, which in turn will likely deny the claim per current law.

Permission from the appeals board will allow Harris’ legal team to take their challenge directly to the Supreme Court of Alaska where the court will consider if the state’s denial of same-sex survivor benefits is lawful.

To be clear, Harris is not challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage directly. She is, however, challenging the state’s failure to allow same-sex couples the rights associated with marriage and the provisions, like survivor benefits, that are currently given to heterosexual couples but not gay couples.

Most critically, the claim notes Harris was forced to move out of the home she and Fadley had shared together because, without her partner’s wage or the help of survivor benefits, she was unable to afford staying there.

“The safety net to catch families in times of crisis should not have a gay exception,” said Peter Renn, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney, in a press release. “Imagine losing the person you love most in your life, under the most horrifying of circumstances, and then imagine the government telling you that, legally, your relationship meant nothing. That’s what same-sex couples in Alaska face.”

Harris’ legal team claims that the discrimination Harris, and also same-sex couples, has been subjected to violates both Alaska’s guarantees of equal protection and treatment, and those made in the U.S. Constitution.

“When Kerry was killed, it was like a hole had been punched in my heart,” Harris said in a press statement. “We loved each other and were together for more than a decade in a committed relationship. But because we could not marry, I was unable to receive the same financial protections that the state provides to married heterosexual couples. As a result, shortly after Kerry was killed and while I was still grieving, I had to abandon the home that we had shared.”

Below you can see a video interview with Harris about this case:

While this case does not deal directly with the federal Defense of Marriage Act, there are several DOMA cases that stand to be considered by the Supreme Court of the United States in the near future.

As this report notes, it is now looking unlikely that SCOTUS will hear those cases before the November presidential elections. Cases include the Proposition 8 case, not technically DOMA affiliated yet with important legal implications nonetheless, and Windsor v United States in which Edith Windsor is challenging DOMA’s rendering her and her deceased partner legal strangers.


Related Reading:

Judge: Alaska’s Tax Rules Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples

Alaska to Allow Easier Driver License Gender Change

Anchorage Gays Want, Need Anti-Discrimination Protections

Image taken from video under fair use terms.

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Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson3 years ago

how very sad

Tamara r Pearlman

Common law marriage is recognized in every state. To watch this video, with tears in my eyes, breaks my heart. I know being gay is not a choice; however don't all people have a right to love and be loved? Why do long term gay couples not have the same rights as other Americans? It is time to accept, tolerate, cooperate, legitimize and love people for who they are. Stop seeing the differences America and look at the commonalities. I know the outlook is not good for this case; however we need legal precedent to set legislation in motion. My thoughts are with Debbie Harris in her time of loss of the love of her life.

Debra Griffin
Debra B.3 years ago

Thats just ignorant

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson3 years ago


Kathleen Pfeiffer

If unmarried heterosexual couples have certain protections then so should same sex couples who have been together for a reasonable amount of time. I look forward to a time when couples who love can marry everywhere in the USA and those who choose to live together without the ceremony can have equal protections of partner rights in death or hospitalization among other things. As long as the couple consists of two CONSENTING people their sexual orientation should have no bearing on the legalities or marriage. Laws that discriminate have basis only in religious belief and do not belong in a secular country's laws. That consenting would rule out any relationships that are brought up as straw men in arguments against gay rights (like those who say it will lead to people marrying children or animals! Idiots!).

Susan T.
Susan T.3 years ago

I can't imagine what Harris is going through - what a living hell to lose so much all at once.

I am fearful of what the current SCOTUS will rule. They have consistently ruled AGAINST the rights of the people

janice b.
jan b.3 years ago

Many young people room together in college or when first living out from their parent's home. Two girls...two fellows who aren't gay, rooming together would be considered strangers if one was injured even if they were orphans.

Lee Witton
3 years ago

Mutiny - I agree with you completely. Unfortunately, there is ALWAYS another Darryll. Not every person has the capacity to think before shoving their big fat Darryll feet in their mouths!

paul m.
paul m.3 years ago

Everything must be written down by law ...unless you are Married or next of kin ( by blood)

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago

Debbie Harris is hope you win your battle against the State of Alaska. Give the Hell.