Alaska civil rights groups show support for same-sex marriage challenge

Suzanna Caldwell

Two civil rights organizations filed a joint brief in federal court supporting a challenge to Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska and the NAACP, Anchorage Branch filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in Hamby v. Parnell, a suit seeking to overturn Alaska’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Alaska ACLU executive director Joshua Decker noted that Alaska was the first state to adopt a constitutional marriage ban in 1998, despite Alaskans cherishing “freedom and equality.”

“It treats people unfairly. It treats them differently from each other,” Decker said Friday. “It’s inequality baked into our constitution, and we hope the court will strike (the amendment) down.”

Five couples filed suit against the state in May, arguing against Alaska’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union of “one man and one woman.” The state argued in filings that the plaintiffs' rights have not been violated and they have no legal justification in bringing forth the suit.

But the brief filed Friday cites established arguments over the marriage ban violating due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. It notes that both the U.S. Supreme Court and two federal circuit courts of appeals have concurred with those assessments. However, the brief notes that the Ninth Circuit -- which has jurisdiction over Alaska -- has not yet decided a marriage equality case. Across the country, 35 courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality, according to the ACLU.

Those decisions all stem from the 2013 Supreme Court case United States v. Windsor that overturned portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. The national ACLU was instrumental in bringing the case forward. In recent years, the Alaska ACLU has been instrumental in other successful challenges to regulations that prohibit same-sex benefits in the state.

The NAACP national organization also filed briefs in support of the Windsor case.

Kevin D. McGee, first vice president and political action chair of the Anchorage NAACP, said the organization has long been a staunch supporter of the 14th Amendment and equal protection for Alaskans.

“(Supporting marriage equality) is not something that dropped out of the air,” McGee said. “This is a position from the NAACP since its inception.”

Attorney Caitlin Shortell, who represents the five couples challenging the same-sex marriage ban, said she was pleased to see the support of the two organizations.

“They’re obviously our allies,” she said.

Shortell and attorneys Heather Gardner and Allison Mendel also filed a motion for summary judgment in the case Friday. U.S. District Court Judge Timothy M. Burgess is set to hear oral arguments on the motion Oct. 10.