Proposition 2 sparks statewide controversy

Posted: Tuesday, October 27, 1998

A gay man with a committed partner, Jason Nelson said he doesn't feel a need to be married right now. Yet the notion of a constitutional amendment that would explicitly deny him the opportunity to wed his lover revolts him.

``The constitution is supposed to give people rights, and not put limits on rights of any kind,'' said Nelson, who is directing the Southeast campaign to defeat Ballot Measure 2.

A week from today Alaskans will decide the issue. If approved by a majority of voters, Ballot Measure 2 would establish a constitutional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Legislature put the amendment before voters because a state Superior Court judge ruled last year that the state must come up with a compelling reason why same-sex marriages ought to be banned.

Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski rejected a state request to dismiss the case of two Anchorage men who were denied a marriage license. He ruled last November that choosing a life partner is a fundamental right. The Alaska Supreme Court has refused to review the ruling, meaning the case could go to trial if voters reject the amendment.

The Alaska Family Coalition, the chief supporter of the amendment, says the measure is necessary because Michalski's decision has opened the door to a broader definition of marriage in Alaska.

``There's no boundaries of what a lifetime partner can be,'' said Kristina Johannes, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition. ``It's incumbent upon the citizens at this point to make the constitution clear.''

The amendment's supporters have a decided financial advantage in making their case. As of three weeks ago, Measure 2 proponents had a nearly 6-to-1 advantage in campaign funds, with just under $600,000 raised for their cause.

The bulk of that money comes from the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, which donated $500,000 to help pass the amendment. The ballot measure also has support from a number of Alaska religious organizations, including Alaska's Roman Catholic bishops, who issued a pastoral letter last month supporting the amendment.

The idea of using religious values to establish state law is a bad one, according to retired school administrator Marsha Buck.

``I'm a deeply religious person and very active in a Christian church here in the community,'' said Buck, who attends Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Juneau. ``I'm outraged at the use of the constitution to write one religious view into the constitution over another.''

Those opposing the measure are in the awkward position of arguing that a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage is bad without making the politically difficult argument that gay marriage is good.

``I'm not going to go out and start a campaign in favor of it, but I see no problem with it,'' Buck said. ``Same-sex marriage is illegal, and it's still going to be no matter what happens.''

Britt Gibson isn't so sure. He said he doesn't want to take the risk that the courts might overturn state laws that ban gay marriage. He said that notion runs contrary to his understanding of the nature of human relationships.

``By legalizing homosexuality, we would be sanctioning it,'' said Gibson, a Juneau Mormon. ``We'd be saying `Heavenly Father, we don't abide by your plan. We feel you ought to change it,' and in my view that's a bit presumptive.''

Gibson contends that adding religious values to the state constitution won't be doing anything new. Even though it's not explicitly stated in the document, he believes that religious morality was implicitly written in.

``That religious precedent is already there,'' said Gibson. ``It was tacitly there. It was there in the framers' minds.''

From the time when the Legislature started considering the amendment, opponents warned that the debate could foment a political climate of ill will. Their argument seemed borne out this fall, when gubernatorial candidate John Lindauer began airing ads featuring the face of Gov. Tony Knowles superimposed over footage of a gay pride parade in another state.

Gibson has heard charges of hate-mongering, and said they trouble him.

``I don't hate anybody,'' Gibson said. ``When that issue came up, it hurt. It really hurt me.''

Nelson, the director of the No on 2 campaign in Southeast, said hate is an almost inevitable product of the circumstance.

``When you have issues like this on the ballot, you end up talking about gays' and lesbians' private lives,'' Nelson said. When it goes a step farther, as in Lindauer's ads, he said it promotes hostility.

``It gives permission to those who have the most anger and hatred built up to go out and hate people.''

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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