Legislature(2015 - 2016)GRUENBERG 120
03/31/2016 01:00 PM House JUDICIARY
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HB 236-RIGHT TO REFUSE TO SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGE 1:08:35 PM CHAIR LEDOUX announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 236, "An Act relating to marriage solemnization." 1:08:57 PM DAVID TALERICO, Representative, Alaska State Legislature, paraphrased his sponsor statement as follows: A key component of the United States Constitution is the secure fundamental right to freely worship and practice religion in America found in the First Amendment. House Bill 236 clarifies the rights for clergy in Alaska. It acknowledges that those authorized to solemnize a marriage may not be forced to violate their religious beliefs nor will their religious freedom be coerced by the government or the courts. Alaska Statute 25.05.261 provides that three entities are authorized to solemnize marriages - 1) religious leaders of churches or congregations in the state, 2) a marriage commissioner or judicial officer of the state, or 3) any religious organization or congregation according to the established ritual or form commonly practiced in the organization or congregation. The intent of this legislation is narrowly focused on those individuals who are authorized to solemnize a marriage in AS 25.05.261 (a) (1) or (3). HB 236 states that clergy in their official capacity may refrain from participating in solemnizing a marriage, providing services, accommodations, facilities or goods related to the solemnization of a marriage without legal ramifications. This bill will not marginalize any marriage relationship, but simply protects the right of all religious leaders to conduct marriage ceremonies according to their beliefs. While the Constitution clearly states that all Americans, including clergy, have the right to freely practice their religion, there is currently a dangerous trend in America towards the erosion of religious liberty. House Bill 236 affirms the crucial freedom of clergy and religious institutions to celebrate and solemnize marriages in accordance with their deeply held beliefs. 1:11:36 PM REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO acknowledged that initially people assumed this was about same sex marriage and he pointed out that there are several things within the tenets of faith and the beliefs of many religious institutions that go well beyond that. He offered that this bill is about the deeply held religious beliefs of the clergy, and the state's inability to have courts or government interfere with a person's deeply held religious beliefs. 1:13:47 PM JOSHUA BANKS, Staff, Representative Dave Talerico, Alaska State Legislature, said he is available for questions. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN opined that the United States Constitution provides clergy with the protection to decline performing a ceremony, and asked whether this bill provides any greater protection than is created by the constitution. REPRESENTATIVE TALERICO responded that the intent is not to provide a greater scope of protection but to clearly identify that Alaska firmly holds to that constitutional belief and that the state judicial system would probably be the first recourse rather than the federal judicial system. Representative Talerico related his strong feelings and said that many of the religious institutions in the state provide services to their communities with limited budgets, such as single mothers and potentially battered spouses. He expressed concern for the clergy being able to continue performing these services rather than directing its time and money toward a legal defense. 1:18:05 PM BISHOP EDWARD BURNS, Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska, paraphrased a letter signed by Roger L. Schwietz, Archdiocese of Anchorage; Chad W. Zielinski, Diocese of Fairbanks; and Edward Burns, Diocese of Juneau, as follows: As pastors, we have watched as our religious liberties have eroded over the last several years on a nationwide level. As you know, our United States Constitution ensures all people to freely practice their religious beliefs according to the tennents [sic] of their individual faith traditions. As leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in Alaska, we are grateful that Rep. Talerico and Senator Miccichi introduced this legislation to clarify and codify our rights here in Alaska. From our perspective, the bill you have before you is important on several fronts. First, it ensures that neither we nor our priests or deacons Statewide would be required to solemnize a same sex marriage. Our Catholic faith tradition clearly professes that marriage is defined as between one man and one woman. While it is doubtful that a same sex couple would present themselves to one of our pastors and ask him to solemnize their marriage, this legislation would uphold our religious liberties. Our second reason for supporting this bill is based on the assurances that we would not be required to allow parish or church facilities to be used for services or events that would be tied to a union that we do not recognize. Here in Juneau, many of you may be familiar with the Shrine of St. Therese. St. Therese is the patron saint of Alaska. In 1938, a little stone chapel was built in her honor 22 miles north of here. Two previous bishops of the Diocese of Juneau, Bishop Cremont and Bishop Kenny are buried directly under the altar of this sacred space. Over the last 75 years we have welcomed guests from all over the world. Because of the unique surroundings and the simple beauty of this small chapel, many weddings have occurred here. In the past we have allowed all faith traditions to use the chapel. Now, we limit it strictly to Catholic weddings between one man and one woman. Passage of this legislation would ensure we could maintain our current practice. In the Archdiocese of Anchorage, we have a mission parish in Girdwood, Our Lady of the Snows. This chapel has been marketed through Alyeska Hotel as a "destination wedding" location. A clause in the contract that the Archdiocese has with the hotel states that marriages or use of the facility may not conflict with Catholic Church teaching. This legislation would ensure that clause would remain true to our church teaching and that the chapel would be used for couples who support our definition of marriage. In the Diocese of Fairbanks, we have Immaculate Conception Church on the banks of the Chena River. The distinctive white buildings with it tapering bell tower and statue of our Holy Mother Mary is on the National Historical Register. It attracts interest from Catholic and non-Catholics alike as a venue for marriage ceremonies. This bill would provide peace of mind should we need to decline enquiries from inappropriate parties. We urge you to support this important piece of legislation that will ensure our religious liberties will be maintained. 1:23:24 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN asked whether the facilities would be rented to an event such as a high school graduation party. BISHOP BURNS answered that the church would ascertain that the event is upheld within the church's moral standard and tenets of its faith as opposed to groups of people contrary to the church's teachings. 1:24:37 PM CHAIR LEDOUX asked whether, currently, facilities could be rented to a Catholic and a non-Catholic couple marrying in a non-religious ceremony. BISHOP BURNS said that the facilities could be used by individuals who were Catholic and non-Catholic ... CHAIR LEDOUX clarified that it would be a Catholic and non- Catholic couple marrying each other. BISHOP BURNS said right, and explained that there are certain regulations for the couples getting married, whether a Catholic is marrying a non-baptized person or a non-Catholic, that they would simply follow the tenets of the Catholic faith. He expressed that the church would be more than open and welcoming to their marriage in the chapel. CHAIR LEDOUX continued the scenario of allowing a marriage in the chapel with a non-Catholic person not agreeing to raise the children in the church or follow the tenets of the faith, and asked whether the church would still rent the facility to them if they were married by a judge and wanted to celebrate their reception at the church facility. 1:26:03 PM BISHOP BURNS advised that the church would not rent its chapel space out for such a use because the marriages taking place in the chapel follow the rites of the church and it would not afford the chapel for a Justice of the Peace to conduct weddings because it is a Catholic chapel. It becomes a pastoral discussion, he said, when there may be question between a bride and groom regarding faith and he extended the tensions between them would not necessarily preclude them from marrying there. He reiterated that it doesn't necessarily preclude that the church would not allow the wedding to take place. CHAIR LEDOUX offered a scenario that a Baptist Church was in the vicinity and two Baptists wanted to use the Catholic Church to be married ... BISHOP BURNS replied there was a day the church would have allowed that. Times have changed, he said, and the Catholic Church recognized it could be the recipient of a lawsuit if it did not open it up to everyone, thereby, causing the church to establish policies to only conduct Catholic weddings. He then described a letter he received wherein a couple wished to be married at the Shrine of St. Thérèse but due to the church's current policy, all weddings are restricted to Catholic weddings. He stated the church is before this committee asking that the government not force the church to violate its religious beliefs and the ability to exercise religious liberty. It is within the church's tradition to go outside its walls especially when given a mission to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to the thirsty. He related that the church helps all people no matter their identity or their orientation, and it embraces all people as brothers and sisters and it is not discriminatory for the church to say no to certain things and uphold its beliefs, he related. 1:30:52 PM REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT asked whether the consistencies in the church's policies statewide keeps it from opening itself up to a lawsuit. 1:31:22 PM BISHOP BURNS agreed. REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT surmised that this bill would not only protect the Catholic Church from a lawsuit but also churches, synagogues, mosques, or anyone with policies set in place consistent with its beliefs. BISHOP BURN agreed, and he pointed out that the image of the shepherd is to protect the flock, protect the faith, defend the faith, but also a responsibility to protect and defend the resources of the church. In time society changes so the laws begin to change and the church has seen it must take steps to uphold and defend its faith and resources, he said. REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT commented that the church is protecting its religious freedoms. BISHOP BURNS agreed. 1:33:34 PM REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN offered a scenario of a Lutheran couple asking the church whether they could get married at the Shrine of St. Therese and asked whether they could be married there if a Catholic priest performed the ceremony. BISHOP BURNS responded "Yes," they could be married at the Shrine of St. Therese if they then entered into the rites of the Catholic Church. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN surmised that in order to be married in the Catholic Church, a Catholic priest or someone wearing the cloth performs the ceremony. BISHOP BURNS agreed. REPRESENTATIVE CLAMAN referred to the Lutheran couple, and asked whether the church would allow them to rent the Shrine of St. Therese for the wedding reception. BISHOP BURNS replied absolutely. 1:35:13 PM CHAIR LEDOUX asked whether that is the current policy. BISHOP BURNS said it would be allowed now because the church is not performing a sacrament so it is not a religious ceremony. He explained the couple would be allowed to use the facility in a manner that is not contrary to the teaching of the church's faith because the church rejoices in the marriage of a man and a woman in all faiths. Although, he said, the wedding did not take place within the Catholic Church's faith it upholds a marriage between one man and one woman and they would be allowed to use the facilities. Currently, people live in interesting times it is important to look at these interesting times and come forward, he said. CHAIR LEDOUX commented that the phrase "May you live in interesting times" is a Chinese curse. CHAIR LEDOUX open public testimony. 1:37:32 PM The committee took an at-ease from to 1:37 p.m. to 1:38 p.m. 1:38:33 PM CHAIR LEDOUX advised the bill would be held over to give the public an opportunity to testify. [HB 236 was held over.]