What others say: Judge’s ruling correct on marriage, but governor has right to appeal

  • Tuesday, October 21, 2014 4:39pm
  • Opinion

On Sunday, Oct. 12, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess issued a decision overturning Alaska’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, finding that it violates the rights of U.S. citizens to equal protection under the law. Within the hour, Gov. Sean Parnell declared the state will fight the issue in the courts, despite a raft of rulings overturning bans similar to Alaska’s in the courts above Judge Burgess to whom the state will appeal. So who’s right? Is Judge Burgess right to declare the ban a violation of the U.S. constitution and therefore void, or is Gov. Parnell in the right in saying he plans to defend the Alaska constitution?

The answer, despite the disconnect in their views of the issue, is both.

Judge Burgess is right to rule that restricting the ability of same-sex couples to marry contravenes the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The right to marry, though some believe otherwise, is indeed a right and not a privilege, and should not be restricted based on beliefs not enshrined in law. Furthermore, the assertion that granting that right to marry to same-sex couples in any way harms or degrades others is without merit.

Some have said that by continuing the state’s suit over the issue after rulings by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals striking down similar bans in Idaho and Nevada — and the U.S. Supreme Court’s declining cases seeking to overturn that court’s ruling on the issue — Gov. Parnell is needlessly wasting the state’s time and money. But the governor is within his rights and duties to defend a citizen-passed initiative amending the state constitution. His mandate is to uphold state laws, and it’s his prerogative to continue supporting those laws until the federal courts have ruled specifically on Alaska’s laws, not those of other states.

The governor should not, however, hold out much hope of success in continuing the legal case. As stated, the federal courts from Judge Burgess upward have made clear — in some cases very recently — how they view the issue, and that viewpoint is not likely to change given the legal arguments made in Alaska’s case.

The state’s constitutional ban went into effect in 1998, the first of its kind in the nation. In the 16 years since, there has been a sea change in views on the issue. In a move that would have been political suicide a generation ago, both of Alaska’s U.S. senators — a Republican and a Democrat — have gone on record in the past two years supporting same-sex marriage. As of earlier this month, same-sex marriage is legal in a majority of states. This is an issue on which the tide has definitively turned and will not turn back.

At the same time, the clarity now emerging on the issue by way of the courts will not quell the difficulty that many of our friends, neighbors and family members have in reconciling the issue with their own beliefs. Coming to a place where we all see eye to eye on the marriage issue is likely to take years and, more likely, decades. But compassion for others is at the heart of nearly all belief systems, and America is underlain by the bedrock principle that all people are created equal and should be treated as such. The rulings defending that principle with regard to same-sex marriage are correct, and we have faith that our state and our nation ultimately will be stronger for them.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Oct. 15

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