Democratic Minority Leader Hollis French, of Anchorage, has introduced a resolution in the Alaska State Legislature to repeal the state’s voter approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of “one man and one woman.”
French is proposing a constitutional amendment to override the 1998 law which passed with 68 percent voter support. French called the law a “blot on our state constitution through our own action.”
If successful, French’s resolution would redefine civil marriage in Alaska to include same-sex “marriages.”
“I believe that we as a nation have been engaged in, and are in the middle of, a long march towards marriage equality,” French said in a Feb. 24 statement.
The resolution would need the support of two-thirds of both the State Senate and House (14 senators and 27 representatives) in order for it to go before voters in the fall.
Jim Minnery, president of Alaska Family Action, a group that supports Alaska’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, said the votes to pass French’s resolution are not there.
“My guess is that he is doing it to begin a public dialogue on the issue in order to set up a lawsuit against our marriage amendment,” Minnery said in a Feb. 24 email to supporters. “It’s happened in other states and for that reason, we’ve recently encouraged Alaskans to contact Congressman Don Young and ask him to support the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 (H.R. 3829) that affirms a state’s right to define marriage and prevents the federal government from undermining its definition.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have repeatedly reiterated Catholic teaching that “every sign of unjust discrimination” must be avoided with regards to those who have homosexual tendencies. However, the bishops are also strong supporters of the proposed State Marriage Defense Act and has issued statements defending the rights of states to define
marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal law.
In his statement, though, French noted that federal courts in Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia recently overturned state amendments defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
French argued that is was only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is the law of the land.
“The day is not far off when the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are inconsistent with freedom, justice, liberty and equality,” he claimed.
Minnery noted that the push to “force all Alaskans to accept same-sex marriage” will likely intensify.
In the wake of ever more lawsuits and legislation to redefine marriage, Minnery affirmed the need to “stand strong for your values…in the public square, articulating why marriage matters, what the consequences are for redefining it and why the government should lift it up and distinguish it as a critical foundation of our culture.”
CHALLENGES TO 1998 LAW
French’s push to change the definition of marriage is not the first time that Alaska’s marriage laws have been challenged.
In 2005, an Alaska Supreme Court ruling mandated that spousal employment benefits for state employees be extended to same-sex partners of public employees.
While marriage in Alaska is defined as the union of one man and one woman, the state high court declared that same-sex partners and married men and women are “similarly situated” in life.
Critics of the decision said the court blatantly defied the 1998 statewide constitutional marriage amendment.
SEXUAL ORIENTATION BILLS UNDERWAY
In addition to his proposed constitutional amendment to redefine marriage, French is backing another bill (Senate Bill 131) that aims to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the list of protected legal classes in Alaska. French is a cosponsor for this bill, along with fellow Democratic senators from Anchorage, Johnny Ellis and Berta Gardner.
Senate Bill 131 contains language that would require local businesses to provide services, skills, facilities and rental accommodations to groups that could use these in order to promote events and causes that affirm and celebrate homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identity.
Local business owners or for-profit groups found in violation of the law could be brought before the Alaska Human Rights Commission, which reviews formal complaints, issues subpoenas, holds hearings and oversees investigations of alleged discrimination.
Currently the Human Rights Commission’s work is limited to cases of discrimination based on race, religion, color, national ancestry, physical or mental disability, age, sex, marital status, changes in marital status, pregnancy, or parenthood. If S.B. 131 passes, it would add “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” to the list.