Gay couples’ federal action latest marriage law challenge
JUNEAU, Alaska – Five gay couples filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.
The Alaska lawsuit, filed in federal court in Anchorage, lists as plaintiffs four couples who were married outside Alaska and one unmarried couple. It alleges that Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit seeks to bar enforcement of Alaska’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It also calls 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.
Alaska voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. But in the past year, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevented legally married same-sex couples from receiving a range of federal benefits. Federal courts also have struck down state constitutional bans in a number of states, though appeals were pending in a number of cases. States such as Illinois and Hawaii legalized same-sex marriage.
An attorney for the couples, Caitlin Shortell, said lawsuits have been filed in almost every state with bans on same-sex marriage. A lawsuit in Alaska was seen by those involved as “necessary and important,” Shortell said.
Another attorney, Heather Gardner, said in a statement that under current state law, “a couple who marries in Seattle and returns home to Alaska are married in the eyes of the law when their plane lifts off from SeaTac (airport) but are legal strangers when the flight touches down in Alaska. No Alaskan is a second-class citizen.”
Defendants include Gov. Sean Parnell and Attorney General Michael Geraghty, who earlier this year told the Associated Press he would continue to defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, even as federal courts around the country strike down similar bans.
The Alaska lawsuit was filed three days after a county circuit judge in Arkansas late Friday tossed out the 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, along with a 1997 state law. That state’s attorney general filed paperwork Monday to at least temporarily preserve the ban.
Geraghty said he would not make his decisions based on federal district court decisions that still must be reviewed by appellate courts and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court, which he expects will ultimately weigh in on the issue.
“Would everybody vote the same way today? Who knows? But it’s on the books,” Geraghty told the AP in February.
A proposal to strike the same-sex marriage ban from Alaska’s constitution, introduced by Senate Minority Leader Hollis French, D-Anchorage, went nowhere during the most recent legislative session. Republicans control both the Alaska House and Senate.
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