On Sunday afternoon, a federal judge struck down Alaska’s 1998 amendment defining marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, this being the latest court decision in a busy week for the issue.
Sunday’s ruling in Alaska came in a lawsuit brought by five gay couples that had asked the state to overturn the 1998 constitutional amendment approved by voters. The lawsuit filed in May sought to bar enforcement of Alaska’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It also called for barring enforcement of any state laws that refuse to recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states or countries or that prevent unmarried gay couples from marrying.
“[A] ny relationship between Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws and the government interests asserted by Defendants is either nonexistent or purely speculative,” wrote U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Burgess, a President George W. Bush appointee, in his 25-page ruling.
“Refusing the rights and responsibilities afforded by legal marriage sends the public a government-sponsored message that same-sex couples and their familial relationships do not warrant the status, benefits, and dignity given to couples of the opposite sex,” Burgess wrote.
The ruling comes less than a week after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to overturn similar marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. Same-sex marriage advocates said the 9th Circuit ruling would likely lead to the quick overturn of Alaska’s ban on gay marriage because the bans were similar and Alaska also falls under the jurisdiction of that court.
However Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said Sunday that the state would appeal the ruling, saying the constitutionality question was in flux. “As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” Parnell, a Republican, said. With Republicans in control, Gov. Sean Parnell and state Attorney General Michael Geraghty could appeal to the Ninth Circuit, which almost certainly would uphold the district court’s ruling. They also could then appeal to the Supreme Court, but that also seems to be a losing bid based on the high court’s recent actions.
With today’s ruling, 30 states plus the District of Columbia now guarantee marriage equality for same-sex couples. In 1998, Alaska’s constitutional amendment was the first state constitutional ban in the nation prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying.