Bill would protect clergy who refuse to solemnize marriages

Of the 34 bills prefiled by Alaska lawmakers on Friday, none have been more controversial than Senate Bill 120 and House Bill 236.

The bills, proposed by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; and Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, respectively, were written in an attempt to shield clergy from the effects of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide last summer.

On Monday, Micciche spoke plainly: “This is not a Kim Davis bill.”

Davis is a county clerk in Kentucky who garnered national attention — and jail time — for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite a court order and instructions from Kentucky’s governor.

Senate Bill 120 states in part that “a person permitted to solemnize a marriage … is not subject to criminal or civil liability for refusing to solemnize a marriage.”

In the days immediately following the release of SB 120, Micciche was lambasted on social media and traditional media for “intolerance,” among other, unkinder words.

After a bruising legal fight to legalize same-sex marriage, he said he can comprehend why same-sex marriage advocates might be tender about the topic, but it isn’t his intention to restrict it.

“I’m not sure people understand,” he said. “In my mind and in my heart, there is nothing remotely anti-gay … in this legislation.”

While SB 120 legally protects those who refuse to conduct marriages or marriage celebrations, it contains clauses that indicate that protection only covers ministers, priests, rabbis and other religious authorities.

Alaska law allows any person to become a “marriage commissioner” for a day and conduct a wedding. Those commissioners and the state’s judicial officers — who also may conduct legally binding weddings — are not protected if they refuse to conduct a wedding.

Furthermore, neither Micciche’s bill nor Talerico’s companion legislation in the House would permit anyone to refuse to issue a marriage license, as Davis did last year.

“It doesn’t outlaw or make same-sex marriage illegal,” Talerico said. “It’s really limited to the clergy.”

While the First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise” of religion, Micciche and Talerico both said the June 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage has created an opportunity to debate where exactly the line should be drawn between church and state.

Should ministers or churches be permitted to discriminate against same-sex marriages? Or should they be forced to conduct those marriages even if their doctrine forbids them?

“I think the recent ruling made this a healthy time to open the discussion,” Micciche said.

While it may be an appropriate time to open the discussion, he added that he doesn’t expect that discussion to close any time soon. He said his “priorities one through ten” of this Legislative session deal with the budget.

“It’s not a priority of mine that we have the discussion this year,” he said.

More in News

Renewable IPP CEO Jenn Miller presents information about solar power during a meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Company looks to build solar farm on peninsula

It would be roughly 20 times the size of the largest solar farm currently in the state.

(Image courtesy CDC)
Officials: COVID is at a plateau in Alaska

The approved COVID vaccines, Zink said, are the best tool to get cases to drop off.

Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove poses for a photo on Jan. 9, 2020, in Homer, Alaska. The veteran Alaska legislator was passing through Homer while waiting to take the M/V Tustumena ferry to Kodiak. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Clem Tillion, PFD founder and former legislator, dies at 96

Tillion died Wedneday, Oct. 13, at Halibut Cove home.

“Soctober” will take place from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, at the Cook Inlet Counseling parking lot at 10200 Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, and consists of rock painting, the winter gear giveaway and a free spaghetti lunch. (Image via Cook Inlet Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse)
Recovery group to host outreach event

The event will include rock painting, the winter gear giveaway and a free spaghetti lunch.

Finn Petersen, left, is announced the winner of a $49,000 Alaska 529 scholarship on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, as part of the “Give AK a Shot” COVID-19 vaccine program. (Photo via the Alaska Chamber of Commerce)
Anchorage residents win latest vaccine lottery

“Give AK a Shot” awards $49,000 in cash scholarships to one newly vaccinated adult and one child.

Jason Floyd testifies in opposition to COVID-19 mandates during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Protesters pack council meeting, declare ‘medical liberty’

Attendance at Wednesday’s meeting was reduced to standing-room only.

Baked goods are on display during a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce pie auction in this undated photo. (Photo courtesy Soldotna Chamber of Commerce)
‘Local gourmets’ to share baking skills at Soldotna Pie Auction

The Great British Baking Show-esque event showcases local culinary talent.

A spruce bark beetle is seen on the underside of a piece of bark taken from logs stacked near Central Peninsula Landfill on Thursday, July 1, 2021 near Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Chugach campgrounds to be closed for beetle kill mitigation

Only one campground will be closed at a time, and updates on closures will be shared to the Chugach National Forest’s website.

Most Read