Alaskans rejoice same-sex marriage ruling as Leman laments

 (Photo by Mel Green)
The Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. (Photo by Mel Green)

In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court on Friday declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. That means the status quo will remain in Alaska, where same-sex marriage was legalized in October.

But for Juneau raised performing artist Seneca Harper, the decision changes how he will feel while traveling in the Lower 48. He married his partner last year in Washington.

“It’s going to be nice to be able to visit more conservative areas of the country and say , ‘Oh I’m sorry, oh actually, I’m not sorry at all,’ and to unapologetically exist as who I am with my husband and hold his hand that has a ring on it and be proud of that,” Harper says.

Joshua Decker is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska. The ACLU led the first marriage equality case back in 1970 and they were plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case. He says the decision affirms that same-sex relationships need to be respected everywhere in the nation.

“We think when you look back on today in the future, today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision is going to be right up there with Brown v. the Board of Ed when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation in the schools,” Decker says.

Former Lt. Gov. and state lawmaker Loren Leman says including Friday’s decision as a win for the civil rights movement is demeaning to minority groups, like black people and Alaska Natives, who he says, really needed civil rights protections.

As a senator, Leman led the 1998 effort to amend the Alaska Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

“I believe it was so important for Alaska to protect its definition of marriage, which was in statute, but to protect it in constitution,” Leman says. “Marriage has always throughout history been a union of a man and a woman and to change the definition to something else is a diminishment of the institution of marriage.”

In 1998, almost 70 percent of Alaska voters agreed with Leman. Pollsters found public opinion swinging for the first time in favor of same-sex marriage in 2014.

Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz sponsored a bill last session that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. She sees marriage equality as a step forward.

“It recognizes a basic right and I think that’s important. It’s progress,” Muñoz says. “I know that a number of people in our community will benefit and as a matter of fact, I look forward to attending a wedding in August and now that this decision has happened, I think they can have much more to celebrate.”

But there’s more work to do. Muñoz’s anti-discrimination bill wasn’t heard this year, but she hopes it’ll get a fair chance in the 2016 legislative session.

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