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Federal judge strikes Alaska marriage ban

Ruling finds same-sex couples’ constitutional rights violated

Mark Thiessen Associated Press

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A federal judge on Sunday struck down Alaska’s first-in-the-nation ban on gay marriages, the latest court decision in a busy week for the issue.

The state of Alaska will begin accepting those applications first thing this morning, Phillip Mitchell, with the state Department of Vital Statistics, told the Associated Press in an email. Alaska has a three-day waiting period between between applications and marriage ceremonies.

The late Sunday afternoon decision caught many people off guard. No rallies were immediately planned, but some plaintiffs celebrated over drinks at an Anchorage bar.

Matthew Hamby, who along with his husband, Christopher Shelden, was one of five couples to sue, said he was “elated” U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess sided with them, and he planned to be among the first in line to apply for a license today.

“This is just an amazing day for Alaska. We’re just so fortunate that so many have fought for equality for so long – I mean, decades,” said Susan Tow, who along with her wife, Chris Laborde, were among couples who sought to overturn Alaska’s ban.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states that were seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage.

That move, on Oct. 6, means that gay marriage is now effectively legal in about 30 states. But much of last week was marked by confusion as lower courts and states worked through when weddings can begin.

Sunday’s ruling in Alaska came in a lawsuit brought by five gay couples who had asked the state to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998. The amendment defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

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.

Burgess heard arguments Friday afternoon and promised a quick decision. He released his 25-page decision Sunday afternoon.

“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.

“This Court finds that Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because no state interest provides ‘excessively persuasive justification’ for the significant infringement of rights that they inflicted upon homosexual individuals,” he wrote.

Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement Sunday he was appealing to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution.

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