The State of Alaska will appeal a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess who’s Oct. 12 ruling invalidated the state’s constitutional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” Governor Sean Parnell said in an Oct. 12 statement, while noting that the status of marriage law “is in flux.”
The state argued that the definition of marriage should be left to the democratic process, not court rulings.
In 1998, 68 percent of Alaskans voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It was the first of its kind.
But in early October, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review several cases striking down similar constitutional bans in other states. Additionally, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit then ruled that constitutional amendments in Nevada and Idaho must be overturned.
The ruling against Alaska’s marriage law is the latest blow to state marriage amendments. Like previous courts, Judge Burgess claimed that Alaska’s marriage amendment violated same-sex couples’ right to equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“By singling out homosexual couples and banning their ability to marry an individual of their choosing, it is impossible to assert that all Alaskans are equal under the state’s laws,” Judge Burgess wrote.
With his ruling, Alaska has become the 30th state to allow same-sex “marriage.”
But failure to uphold marriage as the union of one man and one woman throws the entire institution of marriage into confusion, said Jim Minnery, president Alaska Family Action, a group that has publicly defended Alaska’s marriage amendment.
In a statement released shortly after the ruling, Minnery questioned the court’s logic that marriage is a “changing institution.”
“Under what logical rationale would the courts now deny other ‘evolving’ forms of marriage?” he wrote. “Three wives for one husband? Marrying your aunt or niece or brother? Group marriage involving any number of couples and individuals with various sexual orientations?”
He added: “Once you eliminate sexual complementarity from the marriage equation, is there any reason to keep other cornerstones we’ve all taken for granted for generations including exclusivity, permanence and monogamy?”
Ultimately, marriage laws are not about validating romantic relationships, Minnery continued.
“The purpose of marriage is to ensure the right of children to a relationship with their mother and father,” he said. “That, in turn, encourages stability and responsibility between mom, dad, and children so that the family endures through time. The government has been in the marriage business because the sexual act that unites a man and a woman also creates new life, and the government needs to make sure that that new life is reared to maturity responsibly and in the best possible environment.”
The ruling against Alaska’s marriage amendment comes at a time when the Catholic Church is grappling with how to support and defend long-standing ideals regarding marriage as the life-long union of one man and one woman and family life as the basic institution for the rearing of children.
This month Pope Francis is holding a synod in Rome with leading bishops from around the world to discuss ways the church might address challenges to family life. These include widespread divorce, co-habitation, contraception and the growing acceptance and reality of same-sex unions.
The Catholic Church has long opposed same-sex “marriage” and the social acceptance of same-sex relationships, but it has also taught that homosexual persons deserve respect, justice and pastoral care.
An official summary of the mid-way point of the Rome synod noted that the church must welcome homosexuals in ways that affirm their human dignity and the talents they can bring to the church, but this must be done in ways that uphold Catholic doctrine on the family and marriage.
In recent years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a strong stand in defending laws that uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
“The social value of marriage is great and is apparent even to those who do not share the Catholic understanding of its religious meaning,” the U.S. bishops’ website states.
It notes that the “lifelong, faithful, and fruitful union between husband and wife serves the good of all – it serves the good of the spouses, the good of the children who may issue from their marital union, and the good of society in assuring that reproduction happens in a socially responsible way.”
The bishops note that longstanding views of marriage, while supported by most religions, do not rely on any religious premises.
“They are based instead on the nature of the human person and are accessible to right reason,” the bishops’ website states. “The government has the responsibility of promoting the common good and the best interests of all people, especially the most vulnerable, and upholding authentic marriage does precisely that.