Alaska News

In issuing PFDs, Alaska will no longer enforce law barring same-sex marriage recognition

The state of Alaska will no longer enforce laws defining marriage as “a civil contract entered into by one man and one woman” when distributing Permanent Fund dividends, according to a legal settlement published Wednesday.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled in 2014 that Alaska’s definition of marriage was unconstitutional, but the state continued with the policy and continued to deny PFD applicants, said attorney Caitlin Shortell, who represented plaintiff Denali Smith and three other clients who made similar claims in separate cases.

In 2019, Smith — who is married to a female service member — sued in federal court after the state denied her a Permanent Fund dividend and state officials cited the marriage recognition law. The state’s top legal official at the time, Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, said the denial was a mistake, but the litigation continued.

On Wednesday, Smith signed an agreement with the state of Alaska in which the state says it “shall not enforce this statute as a basis to deny same-sex accompanying spouses and dependents their PFDs in the future.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that bans like Alaska’s violate the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because they discriminate against same-sex couples. Alaska has not repealed either a state law or a state constitutional amendment that prohibits the recognition of same-sex marriages.

“We are pleased to have come to an agreement that the state of Alaska will follow the orders of the federal court and U.S. Supreme Court that same sex-couples are entitled to have their marriages recognized and to receive all of the benefits attendant on marriage, including the PFD. It is disturbing that it took five years and a federal lawsuit to force the state to follow the law and stop its discriminatory policy,” Shortell said.

James Brooks

James Brooks was a Juneau-based reporter for the ADN from 2018 to May 2022.