Murkowski says stance on gay marriage rooted in conservatism

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks in Sitka earlier this year.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski is being applauded by some in her home state for her new-found support for gay marriage.

After the announcement Wednesday, Juneau Rep. Beth Kerttula said she’s proud of Murkowski for being a leader in the U.S. Senate Republican caucus.

The statewide group Alaskans Together for Equality called Murkowski’s stand courageous.

Murkowski doesn’t come up for re-election until 2016 and Alaska’s conservative landscape could change by then.  But Alaska was the first state to ban gay marriage in its constitution, which she supported in 1998.

Up to this point, the senator has said her opinion on the issue was evolving.  Now she says she is rooting her support for same-sex marriage in conservative principles.

Murkowski penned a lengthy op-ed on her website recalling  lunch with a family who visited her office.

They adopted not one, not two, but four children. And by all accounts seemed like any normal family. The parents are Alaskans, one’s in the National Guard.  Both parents are women.

Murkowski says it concerned her that if one parent became ill, the other — who was not officially recognized as a spouse — would have not been recognized by the law, despite “all the love that she had given those children, every ounce of parenting she had lovingly given.”

She says that experience, along with a growing acceptance of same-sex unions  throughout the country, forced her to reflect on her stance.

She says she’s framing her new position in a conservative light.

“Protection of freedom, government limitation in our lives, religious liberty; those are pretty conservative principles,” she says.

Many of her colleagues disagree. Arkansas Sen.  John Boozman, a fellow Republican, says such a visceral issue like marriage is too serious for party principles.

“You need to look at what’s best for families, what’s best for raising children,” he says. 

Many observers say the political debate is over – that opposing gay marriage is a losing argument. But Murkowski says the debate is far from finished; many are still wrestling with the issue.

And some, like Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, have settled in opposition.

“I just think once you change the definition of marriage, you’re asking for it. I’ve been for civil unions, I’ve been for trying to solve this problem, but I just don’t think that should happen,” he says.

Just two months ago, the Republican National Committee affirmed its opposition to gay marriage.

Murkowski, who supported Alaska’s constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage in 1998, sought the advice of Republican Senator Rob Portman. She wanted to know how his constituents reacted when he announced his support for gay marriage in March.

She says she’s not looking to lead her party on the issue.

“I did not make the announcement I did in an effort to start a parade. I felt it was important to be honest and clear with Alaskans on where I stood,” she says.

But she did make the announcement in advance of what is sure to be a major national dialogue on the issue. The Supreme Court is set to rule on two gay marriage cases as early as Thursday.

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