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LDS Church joins gay-marriage fight

Supporting its strong stance on the sanctity of the traditional family, the LDS Church has donated $500,000 to an initiative campaign battling same-sex marriage in Alaska.

The donation, made last week to the Alaska Family Coalition, will be used to boost a television, radio and print advertising campaign there urging voters to approve Proposition 2 on the Nov. 3 ballot.The measure is a proposed constitutional amendment that would provide the legal definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. It arose out of a lawsuit brought against the state by Jay Brause and Gene Dugan, two Anchorage men who filed suit in state court challenging the state's 1966 marriage law.

The law states that "marriage entered into by persons of the same sex, either under common law or under statute, that is recognized by another state or foreign jurisdiction is void in this state, and contractual rights granted by virtue of the marriage, including its termination, are unenforceable in this state.

"A same-sex relationship may not be recognized by the state as being entitled to the benefits of marriage."

In February, Superior Court Judge Peter A. Michalski refused to dismiss the suit, issuing a decision that was similar to that handed down by a circuit court judge in a comparable Hawaii case.

The church was active in opposing efforts to legalize same-sex marriage there as well.

As a result of the court ruling, Alaska's Republican-controlled legislature approved the proposed constitutional amendment in May, and voters will have the chance to ratify or turn it away in November.

Kristina Johannes, spokeswoman for the coalition, said Saturday the donation will substantially boost efforts by churches, family organizations and individuals there to firmly enshrine the traditional family as the only legal marriage union in that state.

She said the coalition is a grass-roots organization "made up of members from different denominations, and some with no religious affiliation at all. Each of us (organizers) has been working with our own churches trying to gather the financial support we felt we would need. We have several members of the Mormon Church involved in this - one on our board and one on the steering committee."

Mike Otterson, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, affirmed that the donation came from the church's Corporation of the President, rather than from any foundation or regional organization.

The battle in Alaska has grown to include additional lawsuits by other parties, including the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, which sued the state in July seeking to cancel Proposition 2 from the ballot.

The day following the ACLU lawsuit, the Alaska Family Coalition was formed. "It all happened very quickly. Once the judge ruled, the legislature reacted quickly to gather support for the amendment, and then we got together to support that," Johannes said.

"Our group was just formed as a single issue campaign strictly for this issue, but people have been asking us if we would stick around after it's finished and work on other things."

Johannes said the judge who ruled against the state's existing marriage statute "seems to think the right to privacy in the Alaska constitution means the person has the right to have their choice of a lifetime partner recognized by others. It's not just a matter of being free to choose who you want to spend it with, but he's saying every one else has to recognize it as well.

"We definitely think we'll win, but we want to win big," Johannes said. "I think the polls have shown there is very solid support for our position."

Part of the coalition's drive will be to get people to the polls, she said. "There's a lot of controversy going on within Alaska politics right now, and sometimes that discourages people and they don't go to the polls. I don't know how that will affect people, but we'll be emphasizing to people that it's important to get out and vote on this issue."

Some 600 individuals have contributed to the campaign, along with a $50,000 donation from the Campaign for Working Families, she said. The coalition had gathered a total of $100,000 before the church made its donation.