U.S. District Court for Alaska strikes down state’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional

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On Sunday night, a federal judge ruled that Alaska’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, paving the way for same-sex couples to begin marrying in the state for the first time. As you might expect, the state immediately said it would appeal the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess.

The Alaska Daily News reports, State vows to appeal after Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban ruled unconstitutional:

Equal“The court finds that 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,” Burgess wrote in a order in the case Hamby v. Parnell, released Sunday.

Read the Opinion Here (.pdf).

The Hamby suit was filed in May by five same-sex couples. It challenged the state’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman, approved by voters in 1998. Both parties in the Hamby case made oral arguments in the case on Friday.

In an email, the state said it will appeal Burgess’ ruling.

“As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” Gov. Sean Parnell said in a press release. “Although the district court today may have been bound by the recent Ninth Circuit panel opinion, the status of that opinion and the law in general in this area is in flux. I will defend our constitution.”

Parnell was referring to a ruling last week from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which 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.

Even as the state vowed to appeal the decision, officials with the state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics said they would begin accepting applications for same-sex marriage licenses at 8 a.m. on Monday.

“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,” wrote Phillip Mitchell, head of the Bureau of Vital Statistics. “We expect our office will be busy tomorrow but we will make every effort to help customers as quickly as possible.”

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Sunday’s ruling makes Alaska the 30th state to have full marriage equality, according to Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, a national political action group that has worked toward overturning marriage bans across the country since 2003.

In 1998, Alaska was one of the first states to implement an explicit ban on same-sex marriages when voters approved an amendment to the Alaska Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

Burgess’ order Sunday follows a slew of decisions issued since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor in 2013. That case overturned portions of the Defense of Marriage Act, finding that it violated same-sex couples’ rights to equal protection and due process under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

While the Windsor ruling did not address same-sex marriage directly, it has served as a watershed case for the issue, with numerous courts around the country citing it as part of their reasoning to overturn same-sex marriage bans across the U.S. The 9th Circuit did so when it struck down Idaho and Nevada’s bans last week, as did Burgess on Sunday.

Burgess found that none of the state’s arguments in support of the ban — including its primary argument that the issue of marriage should fall to voters, not the courts — were constitutional.

Burgess, who was appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush in 2005, wrote in his order that the state offered little evidence supporting the reasoning that the marriage decision falls to the voters. Even if the amendment to the Alaska Constitution was not designed to discriminate, as the state argued, Burgess said that it clearly did.

“By singling out homosexual couples and banning their ability to marry an individual of their choosing, it is impossible to assert that all Alaskans are equal under the state’s laws,” Burgess wrote.

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Burgess said after oral arguments Friday that he intended to make his decision soon, but few expected a decision before Monday. Wolfson, with Freedom to Marry, said Burgess’ decision to issue the ruling on a Sunday shows the judge felt strongly about taking quick action on the issue.

“It’s gratifying to see a judge see the urgency in acting so quickly,” he said in a phone interview. “Alaska adds to the clear momentum and underscores the clear urgency of ending this discrimination nationwide without delay.”

Meanwhile, marriage advocates expressed frustration in the state’s decision to appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency order Friday — coinciding with the end of Alaska’s oral arguments — denying Idaho’s stay on the 9th Circuit’s ruling, which had temporarily halted marriages in that state. Marriages immediately resumed there.

“(The state of Alaska) absolutely has no leg to stand on,” said ACLU Executive Director Joshua Decker. “Alaska’s ban is a dead letter and the governor is just wasting taxpayer dollars.”

I expect to see a carbon-copy of this report from Alaska to appear in Arizona newspapers within the week or so when U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick rules after Thursday’s motion hearing in  Connolly vs. Roche and Majors vs. Horne. I expect Arizona to be dead-ender trying to hang on to its state-sanctioned discrimination as long as possible until all appeals are finally exhausted.

UPDATE: John Aravosis at Americablog gets the caption of the day: Sarah Palin can see gay marriage from her house.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.