Same-sex marriage in Alaska

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of Alaska since October 12, 2014, with an interruption from October 15 to 17 while state officials sought without success to delay the implementation of a federal court ruling. A U.S. District Court held on October 12 in the case Hamby v. Parnell that Alaska's statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution. On October 15, state officials obtained a two-day stay from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which the United States Supreme Court refused to extend on October 17.

Although Alaska is one of a few states which enforces a three-day waiting period between requesting a marriage license and conducting a marriage ceremony, at least one same-sex couple had the waiting period waived immediately after the District Court's ruling.

Same-sex marriage[edit]


In March 1995, State Representative Norman Rokeberg responded to the sudden interest in same-sex marriage by introducing House Bill 227 in the Alaska House of Representatives to add language restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman to the state statutes. The bill passed the House in February 1996. In March 1996, State Senator Lynda Green introduced Senate Bill 30 in the Alaska Senate, which restricted marriage to "a civil contract between one man and one woman" and forbade the recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The bill noted that marriage benefits were not be awarded to same-sex couples in Alaska. It passed the Senate Health Committee, the Senate and the House shortly thereafter.[1] Governor Tony Knowles did not veto the bill, but allowed it to become law without his signature on May 6, 1996.[2]


In 1998, the Legislature passed Ballot Measure 2, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was approved in a popular referendum on November 3, 1998.[3] The amendment passed with 68% in favor and 32% opposed.[4] The Alaska Civil Liberties Union attempted to prevent the referendum from proceeding, but in August 1998 the Alaska Superior Court held that the proposed referendum and accompanying ballot description were legally permissible.[1]


Bess v. Ulmer[edit]

In August 1994, Jay Brause and Gene Dugan, a same-sex male couple, filed an application for a marriage license which was denied by the Alaska Office of Vital Statistics. They filed suit in the Alaska Superior Court, arguing that their rights to privacy and equal protection – both of which are referenced in the Alaska Constitution – were violated by the office's refusal to allow them to marry.[1]

Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski ruled in February 1998 that "marriage, i.e., the recognition of one's choice of a life partner, is a fundamental right" and that "the state must...have a compelling interest that supports its decision to refuse to recognize the exercise of this fundamental right by those who choose same-sex partners rather than opposite-sex partners."[1] Although the decision favored a right to same-sex marriage, it did not legalize the practice in the state or abolish Alaska's statutory ban on same-sex marriage. Rather, Judge Michalski directed the parties to set further hearings to determine whether a compelling state interest could be shown for Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage.[5] Following passage of Measure 2, the Alaska Supreme Court invalidated Brause and Dugan's claims, overturned the Superior Court's ruling, and dismissed the suit.[1][6]

Schmidt and Schuh v. Alaska[edit]

On April 25, 2014, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide property tax exemptions to same-sex couples just as to married couples. The decision said: "For purposes of analyzing the effects of the exemption program, we hold that committed same-sex domestic partners who would enter into marriages recognized in Alaska if they could are similarly situated to those opposite-sex couples who, by marrying, have entered into domestic partnerships formally recognized in Alaska".[7] On July 25, it ruled that denying survivor benefits to a deceased person's same-sex partner violates the survivor's right to equal protection.[8]

Hamby v. Parnell[edit]

On May 12, 2014, five same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Anchorage challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban.[9] The suit named Governor Sean Parnell as the primary defendant.[10] The state's brief, filed on June 19, said that the questions the plaintiffs raised were political, not legal. It said that under the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution "Alaska has the right as a sovereign state to define and regulate marriage" and "Alaska voters had a fundamental right to decide the important public policy issue of whether to alter the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman."[11] District Court Judge Timothy Burgess heard oral arguments on October 10.[12]

On October 12, 2014, less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review similar cases from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Latta v. Otter and Sevcik v. Sandoval, Judge Burgess ruled for the plaintiffs and declared Alaska's statutory and constitutional bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[13] He issued an injunction effective immediately.[14] The same day, Governor Parnell announced that he would appeal the ruling and "defend our constitution." The head of the state Bureau of Vital Statistics commented: "The license application begins the three-day waiting period before the license can be issued. All marriages in Alaska must have the marriage license issued before the ceremony is performed. We expect our office will be busy tomorrow [October 13] but we will make every effort to help customers as quickly as possible."[15] In Barrow, Magistrate Mary Treiber waived the state's three-day waiting period and married Kristine Hilderbrand and Sarah Ellis on October 13.[16]

On October 13, the state asked the district court to issue a stay pending appeal, which was denied.[17] On October 15, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state's request for an indefinite stay, granting instead a temporary stay until October 17 to allow Alaska to attempt to obtain a longer stay from the United States Supreme Court.[18][19] The Supreme Court denied a stay and same-sex couples resumed obtaining marriage licenses following the dissolution of the Ninth Circuit's temporary stay.[20]

On October 22, the appellants asked the Ninth Circuit for an initial hearing en banc.[21] This request was denied on November 18, when no circuit judge called for a vote on the motion within the time period set by circuit rules.[22]

On December 4, Attorney General-designate Craig W. Richards was reported to be reviewing the case. Governor Walker, who took office on December 1, said in a statement that he opposed spending on litigation with little chance of success.[23] On February 9, 2015, the state asked the Ninth Circuit to stay proceedings pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court in DeBoer v. Snyder.[24] The court did so on February 27.

Following the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, the Ninth Circuit accepted on July 1 a joint notice to dismiss the appeal, filed by the state and the plaintiffs.[25]

After Obergefell v. Hodges[edit]

In February 2016, a bill which would reflect the legalization of same-sex marriage was introduced in the Legislature. It would replace the terms "husband and wife" with "spouses". Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson said the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage is not reflected in state laws. The bill touched on a range of areas including adoption, divorce and property rights.[26] The bill died without a vote.

In January 2017, a similar bill was introduced in the Alaska Legislature. It passed its first reading in the House on January 18.[27]


From mid-October to mid-November 2014, 74 same-sex marriages were celebrated in the state, representing about 18.5% of all marriages performed during that time. In Juneau, five same-sex marriage licenses were issued, making up 25% of all licenses issued in the city.[28]

In 2015, 87 same-sex couples wed in Alaska. This made up around 1.6% of the 5,478 marriages performed that year.[29]

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Alaska
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute April 5-December 23, 2017 287 ? 57% 34% 9%
Alaska Survey Research/Alaska Dispatch December 2016 750 ± 3.6% 69% 23.5% 7.5%
Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017 573 ? 54% 36% 10%
Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016 710 ? 60% 34% 6%
Edison Research November 4, 2014 ? ? 55% 41% 4%
56% 41% 3%
56% 41% 3%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20 – October 1, 2014 593 likely voters ± 5% 50% 36% 14%
Public Policy Polling July 31 – August 3, 2014 673 voters ± 3.8% 49% 45% 6%
Public Policy Polling May 8–11, 2014 582 registered voters ± 4.1% 52% 43% 5%
Public Religion Research Institute April 2, 2014-January 4, 2015 338 ? 54% 35% 11%
Public Policy Polling January 30 – February 1, 2014 850 registered voters ± 3.4% 47% 46% 7%
Public Policy Polling February 4–5, 2013 1,129 voters ± 2.9% 43% 51% 6%

State employee benefits[edit]

Alaska Civil Liberties Union v. State[edit]

On October 28, 2005, the Supreme Court of Alaska ruled, in Alaska Civil Liberties Union v. State, that state and local government programs violated the Alaska Constitution's equal protection provision by extending benefits to public employees' spouses but denying benefits to employees' domestic partners. The court held the programs unconstitutional because they denied benefits to people who are precluded, under Alaska's marriage laws, from becoming eligible to receive them.[30]

On November 17, 2006, the Alaska House voted 24-10 in favor of legislation ordering a non-binding referendum for a constitutional amendment to deny benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees. On November 20, the Alaska Senate passed the bill in a 12-3 vote. On December 20, Governor Sarah Palin signed it.[31][32] On April 3, 2007, Alaska voters, with 52.8% in favor and 48.8% opposed, directed the Legislature to put a constitutional amendment denying benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees to the voters. A bill to place such an amendment on the ballot in November 2008 stalled in the state Legislature.[33] Such an amendment was never placed on the ballot.[34]

Since January 1, 2007, Alaska has provided some limited benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees.[35]

Domestic partnership[edit]

City and Borough of Juneau[edit]

The city of Juneau issues domestic partnership benefits to same-sex couples.[36]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Same-sex marriage in Alaska". Religious Tolerance. 1999. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  2. ^ "Same-sex marriages under fire in House". May 8, 1996. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  3. ^ Clarkson, Kevin, Coolidge, David, & Duncan, William (1999). "The Alaska Marriage Amendment: The People's Choice On The Last Frontier". Alaska Law Review. Duke University School of Law. 16 (2): 213–268. Retrieved May 15, 2011.
  4. ^ "Samesex marriage ballot measures". CNN Politics. November 4, 1998. Archived from the original on October 28, 2010. Retrieved October 9, 2010.
  5. ^ Brause v. Alaska – Text of the Superior Court's ruling
  6. ^ Alaska Supreme Court – Decisions 1999 – Bess v. Ulmer
  7. ^ Quinn, Steve (April 25, 2014). "Alaska Supreme Court says tax exemptions cannot be denied to gay couples". Reuters. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  8. ^ Gutierrez, Alexandra (July 25, 2014). "State Supreme Court Rules Same-Sex Partners Can Access Death Benefits". Alaska Public Media. Retrieved October 5, 2014.
  9. ^ "Couples Challenging Alaska Gay-Marriage Ban". ABC News. May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 13, 2014.
  10. ^ "Couples file suit to overturn Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage". Anchorage Daily News. May 12, 2014. Archived from the original on May 13, 2014. Retrieved May 13, 2014.
  11. ^ Rosen, Yereth (June 19, 2014). "Alaska's same-sex marriage ban doesn't violate couples' rights". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  12. ^ "Arguments Set in Challenge to Alaska's Gay Marriage Ban". Edge, New York. Associated Press. July 24, 2014. Retrieved July 25, 2014.
  13. ^ "Hamby v. Parnell". U.S. District Court for Alaska. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
  14. ^ Boots, Michelle Theriault (October 12, 2014). "Federal judge rules Alaska's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
  15. ^ Boots, Michelle; Caldwell, Suzanna. "State vows to appeal after Alaska's same-sex marriage ban struck down". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved October 13, 2014.
  16. ^ Thiessen, Mark (October 14, 2014). "Alaska's 1st known gay marriage in Arctic town". Yahoo News. Associated Press. Retrieved November 1, 2014.
  17. ^ Caldwell, Suzanna (October 14, 2014). "Judge denies stay on rejection of Alaska's same-sex marriage ban". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  18. ^ "9th Circuit grants temporary stay of Alaska same-sex marriages". Associated Press. October 15, 2014. Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  19. ^ "Stay Denied, Temporary Stay to allow for stay request to US Supreme Court" (PDF). US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Retrieved October 16, 2014.
  20. ^ Brydum, Sunnivie (October 21, 2014). "Alaska Couples Finally Able to Legally Marry". Advocate.
  21. ^ "Appellants' Petition for Initial en banc Hearing". Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved October 22, 2014.
  22. ^ MacLean, Pamela A. (November 19, 2014). "Alaska Loses Round in Gay Marriage Appeal". Trial Insider. Retrieved November 20, 2014.
  23. ^ "New Alaska attorney general to review gay marriage case, guard issues". News Miner. Associated Press. December 4, 2014. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
  24. ^ "Motion to Hold Appeal in Abeyance". Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Retrieved February 10, 2015.
  25. ^ Caldwell, Suzannah (July 1, 2015). "After Supreme Court ruling, Alaska officially drops case challenging same-sex marriage". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved 2 July 2015.
  26. ^ "Bill would update Alaska laws to reflect same-sex marriage rights". KTUU-TV. February 25, 2016. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016.
  27. ^ AK HB15 | 2017-2018 | 30th Legislature
  28. ^ For Juneau and Alaska, gay marriage legalization is good for business
  29. ^ Alaska Vital Statistics 2015 Annual Report
  30. ^ "State Courts". Archived from the original on June 26, 2014. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  31. ^ McAllister, Bill (December 20, 2006). "Gay partners of state employees win benefits". KTUU News. KTUU-TV. Archived from the original on December 10, 2007. Retrieved December 27, 2007.
  32. ^ "HB4002)". Retrieved June 29, 2014.
  33. ^ Sutton, Anne (May 8, 2007). "Same-sex benefits bill stalls". Anchorage Daily News. Archived from the original on September 14, 2008. Retrieved September 2, 2008.
  34. ^ List of Alaska ballot measures
  35. ^ "New Employees". Archived from the original on November 2, 2013. Retrieved November 2, 2013.
  36. ^ "Governments Offering Benefits". Retrieved June 29, 2014.