Another Republican in the U.S. Senate has joined two other GOP senators in supporting gay marriage. In an opinion piece posted to her Senate website, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) says that conservatives should support marriage equality because conservatives want government to stay out of private lives.

This thinking is consistent with what I hear from more and more Alaskans especially our younger generations. 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. 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.

First, this is a personal liberty issue and has to do with the most important personal decision that any human makes. I believe that, as Americans, our freedoms come from God and not government, and include the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What could be more important to the pursuit of happiness than the right to choose your spouse without asking a Washington politician for permission? If there is one belief that unifies most Alaskans – our true north – it is less government and more freedom. We don’t want the government in our pockets or our bedrooms; we certainly don’t need it in our families.

Secondly, civil marriage also touches the foundation of our national culture: safe, healthy families and robust community life. In so many ways, sound families are the foundation of our society. Any efforts or opportunity to expand the civil bonds and rights to anyone that wants to build a stable, happy household should be promoted.

Thirdly, by focusing on civil marriage — but also reserving to religious institutions the right to define marriage as they see fit — this approach respects religious liberty by stopping at the church door. 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. 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.

It was President Bill Clinton, a Democrat who had wide support from gay and lesbian voters, who signed the anti-gay marriage bill into law in 1996, writing in his signing statement that " have long opposed governmental recognition of same-gender marriages and this legislation is consistent with that position."

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The Supreme Court is scheduled to return to the debate over the discriminatory law next week.

[AP photo.]