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Alaska should heed federal court decisions against same-sex marriage bans

Hollis French

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These simple words, found in the Declaration of Independence, helped forge the ideals embedded in the United States Constitution -- a constitution that is the envy of the free world. Why? Because it stands as the finest example of humanity's commitment to freedom and equality.

To be truly free and equal we must, as our founders described, be free to pursue our own vision of happiness. In the spirit of these ideals, this session I introduced Senate Joint Resolution 30. SJR 30 seeks to remove a provision of the Alaska Constitution that prevents a large number of Alaskans from pursuing their own happiness. After all, what is more central to happiness than love and family?

SJR 30 gives voters an opportunity to erase Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage.

A string of court decisions, most from conservative-leaning states, have led many to conclude that whether or not Alaska acts on its own, judicial intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court is imminent. Courts in Utah, Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Michigan and Oklahoma have overturned state bans on same-sex marriage using the legal rationales of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

These decisions are worth a closer look. Most remarkable is the uniformity of the result. Six judges in six different states have looked at the law and come to the same conclusion. This is strong evidence that Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage will also be struck down.

Moreover, the judges examining the issue are hardly the "liberal activist judges" that Fox News teaches its viewers to fear and loathe. The judge in Utah is a registered Republican and a decorated military veteran. The judge in Michigan was appointed to the bench in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan.

The Michigan case involved a clash over how children raised in same-sex households fared in life versus those raised in heterosexual ones. The judge conducted a two-week trial, taking evidence from more than a dozen social scientists. The conclusion was unequivocal: Decades of research reveals that "there is no discernible difference in the parenting competence between lesbian and gay adults and their heterosexual counterparts. Nor is there any discernible difference in the developmental outcomes of children raised by same-sex parents as compared to those children raised by heterosexual parents."

Strong words from a federal judge.

The Michigan decision went on to say that it makes no difference if the state's ban on same-sex marriage was passed by the legislature or through a vote of the people. The promise in our U.S. Constitution of equal protection of the law trumps any attempt to infringe upon it. The Michigan court closed by saying that "today's decision affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor with the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail."

Given this decision and the others, it is clear that the day is not far off when the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are inconsistent with freedom, justice, liberty and equality. Instead of leaving our fate in the hands of the federal justices, let's make a statement together -- Alaska is a place that accepts, loves, and provides equal opportunity to all Alaskans. Indeed, a recent policy tracking poll suggests a majority of Alaskans already support this notion. Passing SJR 30 through the Legislature and sending it out to a vote by Alaskans is the Alaska way to approach this issue.

Despite the principles of acceptance and equality behind SJR 30, there are many opponents to the concept. Since introducing the resolution some have contacted my office to voice their concerns. I understand that the shift in thinking and attitude that SJR 30 embodies is a major change from established practices, but I believe that time has shown this change to be essential to our country and our state in continuing toward the goals our founders set so long ago, that all people are created equal and all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Hollis French, D-Anchorage, currently serves as minority leader in the Alaska Senate, where he has represented West Anchorage for the past 12 years.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.