Nation & World

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski backs same-sex marriage

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Wednesday she’s changed her views and now supports gay marriage, becoming the third Senate Republican to do so.

Murkowski declared as recently as her 2010 re-election campaign that she believes marriage should be legally defined as between a man and woman. She’s voted to amend the Constitution to forbid gay marriage. But she said Wednesday she’s changed her mind.

Murkowski said she’s come to the conclusion it is not the business of the federal government to tell people who they can marry. She called same sex marriage consistent with Republican values of limited government and 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,” Murkowski said in a written announcement made on her official Senate website.

Murkowski’s declaration comes as the U.S Supreme Court prepares to rule on two major gay marriage cases. Rulings could be imminent on the federal Defense of Marriage Act and on California’s gay marriage ban.

Murkowski is the third Senate Republican to back gay marriage. Sen. Rob Portman announced his support in March, explaining that his son, Will, came out as gay in 2011. A few weeks later, Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., announced his support.

The Senate, though, is still short of the 60 votes needed to back gay marriage legislation. Fifty-one of the Senate’s 54-member Democratic caucus have backed gay marriage.

Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich has supported same sex marriage for years. Alaska’s only member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Don Young, opposes gay marriage but said it should be up to each state to decide whether it should allowed.

Murkowski first indicated in March that she was “evolving” on the gay marriage issue. She said during a visit to Alaska that the views of her sons, ages 20 and 21, and their contemporaries have helped her see things differently. “When it comes to gay marriage, the universal response from young people seems to be, why are you all so worried about this? Why is this such an issue?" Murkowski said.

Alaska was among the first states to ban gay marriage. Sixty-eight percent of Alaska voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 1998 that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Public Policy Polling reported in February that just 43 percent of Alaska voters thought gay marriage should be legal. But 67 percent of those polled backed some form of legal recognition for same sex unions.

Murkowski said Wednesday that while she supports “civil marriage” for same sex couples, churches should have the right to not recognize the marriages.

“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,” she said.

Murkowski’s explanation of her change of heart singled out Victoria Green and Theresa Huebler of Anchorage, a couple she honored last year for adopting four siblings who had been split up in foster care. Murkowski said the women are denied spousal rights and that “this first-class Alaskan family still lives a second-class existence.”

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