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State: Alaska's same-sex marriage ban doesn't violate couples' rights

Yereth Rosen
Loren Holmes

Five couples suing to overturn Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage have had none of their constitutional rights violated and thus no legal justification for their goal, the state argued in a document filed in federal court on Thursday.

The state's contention was made in an official response to a lawsuit filed on May 12 in U.S. District Court in Anchorage by four same-sex couples seeking to have their out-of-state marriages recognized in Alaska and one couple seeking the right to marry in Alaska.

The lawsuit is one of dozens targeting same-sex-marriage prohibitions across the United States. Some of the state prohibitions, like Alaska's, have been recently enshrined in state constitutions.

Alaska in 1998 amended its constitution to define marriage as existing only between one man and one woman. The amendment passed in the Legislature that year and 68 percent of voters approved it.

Plaintiffs in the new case argue that the 1998 change to Alaska's constitution clashes with the U.S. Constitution's guarantees of due process and equal protection and thus cannot stand.

But the state Department of Law, arguing in the official response on behalf of Gov. Sean Parnell and other state leaders, said the lawsuit raises a political question, not a legal question.

The formal reply filed Thursday invoked the U.S. Constitution's 10th Amendment as a defense of Alaska's same-sex-marriage prohibition.

Under that amendment, "Alaska has the right as a sovereign state to define and regulate marriage," the state's response said. "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."

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Legalization has resulted from legislative actions, court rulings and ballot initiatives.

Recent legislative action in Alaska addressed another 1998 ballot measure passed overwhelming by voters. Voters at the time approved an initiative designating English as the state's sole official language. This year, the legislature nearly unanimously approved a bill adding 20 Native languages to the official-language list.


By YERETH ROSEN
yereth@alaskadispatch.com