Alaska's two senators vote to protect same-sex marriages

Alaska’s two U.S. senators joined 10 other Republicans on Nov. 29 in voting to advance legal protections for same-sex and interracial marriages.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the Senate in a 61-36 vote, now goes to the House, which passed a different version of the bill earlier this year.

The votes of both senators were expected; each senator had voted in favor of a procedural motion to advance the bill toward final passage two weeks ago.

In a prepared statement, Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, said she was proud to vote in favor of the bill. Murkowski has been a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage rights and had signaled support for the bill earlier this year.

Dan Sullivan, Alaska’s junior senator, said earlier this month that he does not believe the bill is necessary but because it expands legal protections for churches that decline to support same-sex weddings, he was willing to vote for it.

Speaking Nov. 29 on the floor of the Senate, Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said he was grateful for Sullivan, who worked behind the scenes to allow Republican-proposed amendments to come to a vote. Those amendments failed to pass, and the House is expected to approve the Senate’s bill, allowing President Joe Biden to sign it into law.

The bill was inspired by a comment from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who said the court should re-examine its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. A similar legal rationale was part of a 1967 decision striking down laws barring interracial marriages.

If the court overturns the 2015 same-sex marriage decision, the new bill would require all states to recognize pre-existing same-sex marriages. If states then choose to ban same-sex marriages, they would be required to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states.

Alaska has a 1998 state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, though in 2014 a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional. If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 2015 decision, Alaska’s constitutional amendment could again become binding law, and the state could again prohibit same-sex marriage.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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