Alaska Gay Marriage Ban Declared Unconstitutional

Matt Smith/KNOM
A federal judge struck down Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, overturning a 1998 citizens’ vote that defined marriage as between “one man and one woman.”
The lawsuit known as “Hamby versus Parnell” was filed in May by five same-sex couples who alleged the state’s constitutional definition of marriage violated their rights.
In an order released Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess ruled “Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage and refusal to recognize same sex marriages lawfully entered in other states is unconstitutional as a deprivation of basic due process and equal protection principles under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
In an emailed statement Governor Sean Parnell says the state is appealing the ruling. Parnell writes that has “a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” adding that “the status of … the law in general in this area is in flux.”
The “flux” Parnell refers to is the decision last week by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that reviews decisions made by West Coast states, including Alaska. Caitlin Shortell is the attorney representing the five Alaska couples in the lawsuit.
“The 9th Circuit struck down marriage bans that were identical to Alaska’s in Idaho and Nevada. The 9th Circuit Court ruling controls our judge. It told him what standard to apply to analyze our case. And it told him a marriage ban identical to Alaska’s in two other states was unconstitutional.”
She says she’s confident Judge Burgess’ ruling will stand should the state’s appeal go before the 9th Circuit Court. But she says Governor Parnell could choose to go a different route.
“The governor has discretion to decide that it is not worth state resources to defend a law that was ruled unconstitutional that is certain will be upheld by the appellate court.”
As the state pursues its appeal, a permanent injunction on the enforcement of marriage laws in Alaska is in place. That means the state must recognize same-sex marriages from other states, and same-sex couples are able to apply for a marriage license in Alaska—as early as today [Monday].
“The state has announced that they will be prepared to accept applications for marriage licenses this week. So they are complying with the ruling, and the law, even as they have said they are appealing the case.”
A 3-day waiting period for marriage license in Alaska remains in place. Shortell says two of her clients— Courtney Lamb and Stephanie Pearson, the only couple of the five involved in the suit against the state who had not been married elsewhere in the country—will be at the Anchorage court house this morning [Monday] to apply for their marriage license.

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