In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last summer that legalized gay marriage across the nation, including Alaska, the Alaska Legislature has been moving a bill through various committees to protect clergy and others authorized to marry a couple in Alaska. Specifically, House Bill 236 clarifies that no one can be coerced into marrying a couple or facilitating a marriage or marriage celebration.
House Bill 236 is at a critical stage. Now in the House Rules Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Craig Johnson, the next step would be for Rep. Johnson to schedule the bill for consideration by the full membership of the House. As of April 4, the bill had not been scheduled for such consideration. If the measure passes the House it would then go to the Senate. The legislative session ends April 17.
The measure specifically states that there is no compulsion to “solemnize a marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges” for the purpose of celebrating a marriage. Any person who refused to marry a couple would not be subject to criminal or civil liabilities for their decision nor could they be penalized by having their tax exempt status, or state or local contracts and licenses revoked.
Juneau Bishop Edward Burns testified in favor of the bill last week. According to a report from the Alaska Dispatch, Bishop Burns said that following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, his diocese ended its 75-year-old policy of allowing couples from other faiths to get married in its churches and chapels.
Bishop Burns said Alaska needs a bill to exempt clergy from civil or criminal liability for refusing to perform marriages for same-sex couples, the Dispatch reported.
Several states have made moves to legally protect clergy and others following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. It was a ruling that religious liberty advocates say could impact the freedom of churches and clergy to refuse to perform or facilitate same-sex weddings and receptions.