A state senator introduced legislation Monday that would strike down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in the constitution.
Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, is the sponsor of the resolution that will need a two-thirds approval in both the House and Senate in order to go before voters this fall.
“We have a blot or a stain on our state constitution — a blot that SJR30 seeks to erase,” French told reporters Monday.
Former senate minority leader Sen. Johnny Ellis and Sen. Berta Gardner, both Anchorage Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors of the resolution.
Changing the constitution would be the first step in a process of establishing marriage equality in Alaska, and future steps would include changing numerous statutes currently in place during future legislative sessions, French said.
“It’s so clear to me that we as a nation are on a track toward same-sex marriage,” French said. “It felt incumbent on me to do my job as a state legislator and get the ball rolling.”
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key component of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act which denied federal benefits and recognition for same-sex couples.
The decision did not legalize same-sex marriage in all states, but it allowed benefits and recognition to same-sex couples in states that allow such unions. Subsequently, several states have seen the courts overturn same-sex marriage bans.
“It didn’t take long until people around the nation began challenging state definitions of marriage, and they are winning,” French said.
In December, a judge in Utah struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional. In January and February, judges in Oklahoma and Virginia, respectively, ruled the same way.
“The legal underpinnings that oppose same-sex marriage have been knocked out — there’s nothing left,” French said.
He added that he believes the Supreme Court will eventually rule that all state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional, and that the state should be preemptive rather than forced.
“It should be erased with our own actions by passing this resolution and presenting it to the voters,” French said.
That option is superior, he said, because it gives Alaskans the chance to weigh in rather than being told what to do.
Juneau Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan told the Empire he likes the idea, but doesn’t think it will pass the Legislature.
“I support the concept, but its chances are slim,” he said. “This is a constitutional amendment where you need a two-thirds vote.”
He added that the bill “absolutely would have had better chances” if it had been introduced last year during the first part of the 28th Legislature.
French is running for Lieutenant Governor later this year, but said neither political calculations or vote-counting influenced his decision to introduce the legislation.
“This came to me as a matter of conscience,” French said, adding that the idea was “irresistible” after he read the decision on the Virginia ruling.
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, who is running against French in the November election, said Monday she had no opinion on the proposal.
“It’s always tough for a minority bill to move, but when a good idea hits the ground and it starts running you never know what might happen,” she said.
Gov. Sean Parnell spokesperson Sharon Leighow said the governor “supports the constitutional provision defining marriage as between a man and a woman — an issue voters have already weighed in on, unlike with SJR9.
“It is up to the Legislature to decide whether to send constitutional amendments to Alaska voters — a process the governor respects.”