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Republican resistance to gay marriage is dwindling and gray

Just when you thought nothing could distract us from the ongoing drama of the state election in November -- The whole world changed for LGBT couples in Alaska. The beer was flowing and glasses were clinking at bars across Anchorage on Sunday night. Many people, regardless of their own sexual orientation headed out to celebrate U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess' decision that Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Before you let anyone try to paint Judge Burgess as an "outsider" or "liberal activist judge," keep in mind that he attended UAF in 1978, graduated with an master's degree in business in 1982 and was nominated for the U.S. District Court by President George W. Bush.

Marriage licenses for same-sex couples started being issued on Monday. Alaska Dispatch News reported that in Barrow, Kristine Hildebrand and Sarah Ellis became the first same-sex couple to be married in Alaska. Shortly after they married, Kelly Cahoon married Bernice Oyagak.

On her Facebook page, Hildebrand posted "Hey friends -- so I am incredibly pleased to announce that Sarah Ellis and I got married today. We were surrounded by friends and family, and immediately following our ceremony our good friends Kelly Cahoon and Bernice Oyagak also married. We had no idea that we would be the only ones that would manage to marry today but can't express how amazing it feels to have been able to say 'I do' in my hometown."

Kelly Cahoon made similar remarks on her Facebook page, "We are just so happy to be married, on top of that we are just so happy it was in Barrow, our home, and on top of that, we are just so happy it is legal in the great state of Alaska!"

How anybody could find all of that happiness and excitement a bad thing is a mystery to me. Same-sex marriage has had a long road to this success. The Alaska Constitution was amended by voter referendum in 1998 with 63 percent of the vote -- there was no doubt at the time how Alaskans felt about same-sex marriage.

Support for gay marriage gradually grew; however, even as recently as February 2013, support was only at 43 percent, with 51 percent opposed, according to a Public Policy Polling poll.

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That attitude was evident within the Legislature too. During a press briefing shortly after the poll was released, the House GOP leadership was asked about civil unions for same-sex couples and could not hold back their laughter. House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt flipped through paperwork he was holding and chuckled while saying "I don't know if I saw that in our guiding principles."

They aren't laughing much about same-sex marriage this week.

According to a PPP poll a year later, a plurality of Alaskans supported gay marriage with 47 percent in favor and only 46 percent opposed. That's a nine-point swing in only a year, but since 1998, it shows not only a change in opinion, but a complete 180-degree turn on the issue.

Rep. Pruitt is likely still flipping through his papers to figure out how that happened.

The laughing nonsense of the House Republicans aside, there is not much consensus on this issue in the Republican Party. Many Republicans have shown their support for marriage equality in Alaska. State Sen. Lesil McGuire posted the photo of the two married couples in Barrow showing their rings alongside a quote from Stephen Chbosky "We accept the love we think we deserve."

Young Republicans across the country also show strong support for gay marriage. A Pew Research Poll from March of this year showed 63 percent of people who identified as "Republican or leaning Republican" supported gay marriage.

Last year, former President George H.W. Bush bore witness at a gay marriage. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, has made his support of his daughter and gay marriage public, and Laura Bush announced her support for same-sex marriage in 2010.

Much of the opposition from the Republican side surely derives from the far right end where the Christian right is holding on for dear life trying to remain relevant as the young Republicans grow older and slowly become the majority of the party. Polling is pretty clear on a couple of things. First, millennials are mostly ambivalent -- while most of them identify with some religion, they do not seem to believe it should impact their political ideals.

Secondly, regardless of political ideology, millennials are in favor of gay marriage, which means those laughing out loud at the idea of allowing people different than you the right to get married are becoming much less relevant.

This isn't the last stop for gay marriage in Alaska. However, given recent decisions around the country, it is unlikely there will be a time again when people in same-sex couples are forbidden from looking each other in the eye and saying, "I do."

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late 1990s. Email him at michaeldingman@gmail.com.

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

Mike Dingman

Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.

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