Murkowski favors congressional vote on same-sex marriage protections while Sullivan is noncommittal

Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks in support of Rep. Deb Haaland’s nomination to Interior Secretary.

by James Brooks, Alaska Beacon
July 22, 2022

Sen. Lisa Murkowski said this week that she is likely to vote in favor of a bill protecting same-sex marriage rights, joining four other Republicans and raising the likelihood that the measure can overcome a Senate filibuster.

Sixty votes are needed for a bill to advance toward a final vote in the U.S. Senate, and because the Senate is divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans, Republican support is needed for Democrat-supported legislation like the gay-marriage bill, which passed the House on Tuesday.

Speaking to CNN on the same day the bill passed the House, Murkowski said she has supported gay marriage for years and would also like to see the rights to contraception and abortion protected under federal law.

“I cannot confirm what CNN reported but can tell you Senator Murkowski has supported marriage equality for years,” said Karina Borger, a spokesperson for Murkowski.

“Senator Murkowski will review and consider the House-passed bill and the Senate version recently introduced by Senators Baldwin and Collins,” Borger said, referring to Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Collins and Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have also said they will vote to protect same-sex marriage or are likely to do so.

Alaska’s junior U.S. senator, Dan Sullivan, has been noncommittal about the bill.

“The senator is evaluating the legislation passed in the House and is waiting to see what the majority leader puts on the floor. As he has stated in the past, he respects the court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges,” said Ben Dietderich, Sullivan’s press secretary.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, canceling federal protections for abortion rights, Justice Clarence Thomas raised the possibility that the court might do the same to Obergefell, the case that guarantees federal protection for same-sex marriage, and calls have grown for laws to protect the rights of same-sex couples.

Republican support for that legislation has proved unexpectedly strong in Congress, raising the possibility that it could pass the 60-vote threshold. 

In Alaska, the state’s constitution explicitly bans same-sex marriage, but that ban — approved by voters in 1998 — was nullified in 2014 by a federal district court judge in Anchorage. That decision came a handful of months before the Obergefell decision in 2015.

If the current Supreme Court overturns Obergefell, same-sex marriage would be banned in Alaska. 

Pat Chesbro, the Democratic candidate opposing Murkowski in this year’s U.S. Senate elections, noted that protecting same-sex marriage means protecting a variety of rights for same-sex couples, including parental rights and the right to file taxes together.

“I think we need to codify the rights of people to love who they want and be with who they want,” she said.

Kelly Tshibaka, Murkowski’s leading Republican competitor in this year’s U.S. Senate elections, said she believes the bill is unnecessary.

“The Supreme Court ruled seven years ago that the 14th Amendment protects same-sex marriages, so it’s unnecessary to have redundant legislation from Congress. This legislation is intended to distract voters from the failed Biden Administration and disastrous voting records of entrenched incumbents, like Lisa Murkowski, who are up for re-election,” she said in a statement.

As a student at Harvard Law School, Tshibaka wrote in support of a Christian organization that promoted conversion therapy for same-sex couples, saying that gay people can “come out of homosexuality” with the help of Jesus. 

She quoted the organization’s claim that homosexuality was caused by “sexual molestation during childhood.”

Contacted by CNN in 2021 about those comments, she said she does not hold that view today and personally believes that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: [email protected]. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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