Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Alaska's Congressional Delegation Split On Gay Marriage; Don Young And Lisa Murkowski Say No, Mark Begich Says Yes

On March 26th, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about California Proposition 8, and although a final decision may not be rendered until June, court watchers believe the Court is split 50-50 on the issue, with Justice Anthony Kennedy holding the balance of power. Some believe that Kennedy might be inclined to vote to overturn Proposition 8 in exchange for the court invalidating affirmative action and section 5 of the Voting Rights Act later this year; section 5 is the provision requiring Alaska to get federal "preclearance" before reapportioning legislative districts. On March 27th, the Court began entertaining arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, and court watchers are already hinting that DOMA might be in trouble.

Naturally, the debate has spread to Alaska, and KTVA Channel 11 speculates on five possible outcomes. Alaska's Congressional delegation has also weighed in, and is split on the question of gay marriage along party lines, with both Republicans Congressman Don Young and Senator Lisa Murkowski saying No, while Democratic Senator Mark Begich says Yes. Murkowski has been ill this week and unavailable for direct comment, but has not supported same-sex marriage in the past according to Matthew Felling, her communications director. However, since this post, Murkowski now says her view on gay marriage is "evolving". Don Young's staff issued the following statement; "Congressman Young personally believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but that it is up to each state to decide the issue".

Mark Begich's position on gay marriage is worthy of further explanation. First, it really isn't a new position for him; he's supported equal rights for gays, to include support for same-sex marriage, for several years, as documented by Human Rights Campaign since 2009. So he has not flip-flopped on the issue. But his most current statement indicates a more libertarian motive:

"I believe that same sex couples should be able to marry and should have the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as any other married couple. Government should keep out of individuals' personal lives--if someone wants to marry someone they love, they should be able to. Alaskans are fed up with government intrusion into our private lives, our daily business, and in the way we manage our resources and economy."

Begich is obviously attempting to soften the impact of his support for gay marriage by using a libertarian argument; he recognizes that although Alaska is a red state, it has a strong libertarian strain embedded within. Libertarians attempt to straddle the fence by using sovereignty arguments as a shield against criticism from the gay rights cartel. This also explains why I prefer to avoid tarring all liberals with the same brush; I do not hold responsible liberals like Mark Begich responsible for the sins of progressive extremists like Shannyn Moore, since Begich is clearly attempting to reach out to as many Alaskans as possible, and refrains from the inflammatory Saul Alinsky-style muckraking and gutter-sniping favored by progressive extremists.

But his libertarian argument may not help Mark Begich when he runs for re-election in 2014. I was unlikely to support Begich anyway, but knowing he explicitly supports gay marriage makes it even less likely that I will support him. Using the libertarian argument will not help him with other social conservatives, either. But the outcome of the 2014 election will depend upon which Republican opposes Begich in the general election. Back in February 2013, Public Policy Polling attempted to find out how prospective Republicans might fare against Begich; this was the result:

-- Mark Begich 48-48 vs. Gov. Sean Parnell
-- Mark Begich 47-41 vs. Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan
-- Mark Begich 47-39 vs. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell
-- Mark Begich 50-40 vs. former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman
-- Mark Begich 54-38 vs. former Gov. Sarah Palin
-- Mark Begich 58-30 vs. former Senate candidate Joe Miller

Complicating the issue further is the fact that Treadwell has said that he won't run for the Senate if Parnell runs. Most Alaskans would prefer that Parnell run for re-election as governor instead. With these variations incorporated, Dan Sullivan, whose second term as mayor would be winding down, would be the strongest candidate against Mark Begich, and Sullivan just won a major political victory by convincing the Anchorage Assembly to pass his labor reform ordinance by a narrow 6-5 vote on March 26th despite pronounced opposition from union leaders. This shows Sullivan can win the tough battles.

So how do ordinary Alaskans feel about gay marriage? Another Public Policy Polling survey provides an answer. Their survey showed that although Alaska voters aren't yet on board with same sex marriage, they're more supportive of civil unions for gay couples. 43 percent of voters think gay marriage should be legal to 51 percent who still think it should be illegal. But 67 percent support some form of legal recognition to just 30 percent who think there should be none at all. An unscientific Fairbanks Daily News-Miner poll currently in progress shows similar results, with 49 percent opposing gay marriage, and 45 percent supporting it. Gay rights has even permeated the 2013 Anchorage Municipal Election campaign, with the Anchorage Daily News questioning assembly candidates about their attitudes towards extending non-discrimination protection to gays.

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