Juneau lawmakers weigh in on same-sex marriage

Two days after a Democratic state senator proposed abolishing Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriages, a federal judge ruled a similar ban in Texas is unconstitutional.

Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, is the driving force behind the effort to change Alaska’s constitution through SJR30. He spent time Wednesday afternoon reading the Texas decision that came earlier in the day.

“It’s astonishing how fast these states are falling,” French told the Empire. “Every state that has looked at this has said that Constitutional equal protection laws trump your state’s constitutions.”

Every member of Juneau’s delegation to Government Hill supports extending equal rights to same-sex couples, and all would vote in favor of SJR30 to bring the vote to the people.

“I don’t think we should interfere in what individuals do in preference of anything,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

Juneau’s newest representative, Democratic Rep. Sam Kito III, echoed Egan’s sentiments.

“It’s an issue of equality,” Kito said. “Any individual should be treated the exact same as any other individual, and the opportunity offered to one resident of the state should be offered to another representative of the state.”

Juneau’s lone Republican delegate, Rep. Cathy Muñoz, said she supports equal civil rights but does not believe it should be called marriage to avoid the possibility of churches disputing the infringement of their rights.

“I believe civil unions should be made legal because the rights that are afforded in a marriage should also be afforded to loving couples that are committed through civil union,” Muñoz said. “I am not in favor of full marriage rights for gay couples because of the implications of forcing a church to perform the ceremony that would be implicit in those rights.”

She emphasized that she has “no problem” with gay and heterosexual couples having the same civil rights.

“A civil union is an opportunity to extend equal rights that are afforded through a marriage to a gay couple,” she said.

SJR30 has been referred to the Senate’s state affairs committee. No meetings have been scheduled to discuss the measure, according to the Alaska Legislature’s website.

If approved by two-thirds of the legislature in both bodies, the resolution would go to a vote of the people this fall.

The ruling from a federal judge in San Antonio, Texas, is the fourth ruling in the last three months to strike down a state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Judges in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia made similar rulings in December, January and February, respectively.

“Once the Supreme Court says, for example, Texas doesn’t have within its legal capacity an ability to deny marriage to same-sex couples — once that happens in Texas — it’s going to have a nationwide effect,” French said.

No federal court cases directly challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage, but there is an appeal before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Nevada — a federal court with jurisdiction over Alaska district courts — that challenges Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, said Joshua Decker, the interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union-Alaska.

The ruling from that court could be constructed in a manner that determines the fate of Alaska’s constitutional ban, Decker added.

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