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Limit on marriage passes in landslide

By LIZ RUSKIN
Daily News reporter

Alaskans decided, by an overwhelming majority, to add a ban on same-sex marriage to the state constitution.

With more than half the vote counted, Ballot Measure 2 was passing by a ratio of 2 to 1.

A parade of amendment opponents marched into the Egan Civic and Convention Center shortly before 10 p.m. to the beat of a tambourine. “Gonna keep on marching forward,” they sang mournfully.

The campaigns working for and against passage of the amendment steered around the thorny question of whether homosexuality is right or wrong.

But some voters saw the question as a referendum on homosexuality itself.

First-time voter Susette Jenkins, 18, said she voted for Proposition 2 because she thinks homosexuality is unnatural and morally wrong.

“That's not to say gay people are evil. I have friends who are gay, and they're my best friends,” she said. “I have friends who smoke, too, and I don't believe that's right, either.”

William Brown, 78, a retired construction worker, said he voted for the amendment because of his feelings about homosexuals.

“They're not family-oriented,” he said. “What do they have to produce? They're noncontributors to society. They might contribute as far as business goes, but not family. It's about sexual gratification.”

Others, though, said they felt strongly that homosexuals should have the right to marry. Some said their vote against Proposition 2 was their prime reason for going to the polls.

Julie Stephens, a married mother of two, said she mulled the question over a lot and discussed it with her husband. In the end, she decided to vote against the amendment.

“People should be allowed to marry who they want to marry,” she said. “Times change.”

And sometimes they don't.

Proposition 2, assuming it has passed, adds a sentence to the Alaska Constitution: “To be valid or recognized in this state, a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman.”

The Alaska Legislature decided to put the amendment before voters in response to a 1995 lawsuit brought Jay Brause and Gene Dugan, an Anchorage couple denied a state marriage license.

In February of this year, Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski issued a preliminary ruling in the case, saying people have a fundamental right to choose a life partner. That personal decision is protected by constitutional rights of privacy and equal protection, his order said. To keep the state law that denies marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the state must prove it has a compelling reason, he ruled.

Several Republican legislators, especially Sen. Loren Leman of Anchorage, were outraged. A judge shouldn't be allowed to overthrow thousands of years of tradition and radically redefine marriage, Leman said. He led the charge for a constitutional amendment that would trump Michalski's decision.

Dozens of people turned out at a series of legislative hearings, the majority of whom opposed the amendment. One mother, who spoke at almost all the hearings, told legislators she loves her gay son as much as she loves her other children and wants all of them to have the opportunity to find happiness in marriage.

Tuesday's election results showed people who shared her views were merely a vocal minority.

“I think what it tells me is that very few people know what the issue is,” said a dismayed Allison Mendel, spokeswoman for the No on 2 campaign, which tried to focus attention on discrimination and preserving the constitution. “It was a very brief campaign. All the money was on the other side. People are voting their knee-jerk reaction.”

Mary Ann Pease, spokeswoman for the Alaska Family Coalition, said informed voters understood the issue just fine.

“It's purely an affirmation of traditional family values,” she said.

In Hawaii, where voters were faced with a similar constitutional amendment that would allow a ban on same-sex marriage, the measure was also passing by a 2-1 ratio, with about a third of the vote counted.

Meanwhile, the 1995 lawsuit Brause and Dugan filed is pending in Michalski's courtroom.

“It still goes forward,” said their lawyer, Bob Wagstaff.

Michalski, and ultimately the Alaska Supreme Court, will have to “harmonize” the new amendment with the provisions of the constitution that guarantee equal protection and privacy, Wagstaff said.

“One way they could do that is to say, OK, people of the same sex can't be 'married,' but they're entitled to the same legal benefits of marriage,” Wagstaff said. He said he will argue for some kind of domestic partnership law.

Reporters Rachel D'Oro and Lisa Demer contributed to this story
copyright © 1998 The Anchorage Daily News


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