Days before the Supreme Court makes the final decision on two cases regarding marriage equality, Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski publicly supported marriage equality; she is the third sitting Republican senator to do so.
“Like the majority of Alaskans, I supported a constitutional amendment in 1998 defining marriage as only between a man and a woman, but my thinking has evolved as America has witnessed a clear cultural shift,” Murkowski wrote in her op-ed piece on her site.
“Fifteen years after that vote, I find that when one looks closer at the issue, you quickly realize that same sex unions or civil marriages are consistent with the independent mindset of our state – and they deserve a hands-off approach from our federal policies.”
Murkowski previously supported the 2004 Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have banned marriage equality in the Constitution. Her views changed after being inspired by a same-sex Alaskan couple with four adopted children. In her op-ed piece she describes the government’s refusal to recognize them legally, especially during medical visits, as the reason why “this first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence.”
She wrote, “When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values. I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values: it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of peoples’ lives – while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another.
“While my support for same sex civil marriage is something I believe in, I am equally committed to guaranteeing that religious freedoms remain inviolate, so that churches and other religious institutions can continue to determine and practice their own definition of marriage.”
With the Republican Party divided on the issue of marriage equality, she is the third Republican to join Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Illinois Senator Mark Kirk in supporting marriage equality.
“This is a hard issue. And there may be some that when they hear the position that I hold, that are deeply disappointed,” Murkowski said in an interview with KTUU. “There may be some that embrace the decision that I have made. I recognize that it is an area that, as a Republican, I will be criticized for.”
Murkowski also touched upon her Catholic upbringing.
“As a Catholic, I see marriage as a valued sacrament that exists exclusively between a man and a woman. Other faiths and belief systems feel differently about this issue – and they have every right to,” said Murkowski. “Churches must be allowed to define marriage and conduct ceremonies according to their rules, but the government should not tell people who they have a right to marry through a civil ceremony.”
As an anecdote, she references an interview with Ronald Reagan’s daughter and her belief that her father would support marriage equality, as “he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing.”
“Like Reagan, Alaskans believe that government works best when it gets out of the way. Countless Alaskans and [other]Americans want to give themselves to one another and create a home together,” Murkowski wrote. “I support marriage equality and support the government getting out of the way to let that happen.”
Murkowski now joins 53 senators in publicly supporting marriage equality. Three Senate Democrats are still against marriage equality, with 46 senators in total against the issue.
Aside from previously supporting only traditional marriage, Murkowski has a long list of supporting LGBT issues. While supporting the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” she approved the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
“With the notion of marriage – an exclusive, emotional, binding ‘til death do you part’ tie – becoming more and more an exception to the rule given a rise in cohabitation and high rates of divorce, why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they cannot get married, simply because they happen to be gay? I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less,” she concluded.