Alaska News

Walker administration asks 9th Circuit to pause same-sex marriage appeal pending Supreme Court ruling

News that the U.S. Supreme Court will decide the fate of same-sex marriages means Alaska is pressing pause on its ongoing challenge to the decision allowing marriage equality in the state.

Alaska Attorney General Craig Richards said in a statement Friday that his office would ask for a stay from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Hamby v. Parnell, the decision legalizing same-sex marriages in Alaska.

A stay of the appeal would only leave the appeal at a standstill. If granted, the stay would not have any impact on same-sex marriages in Alaska.

In October, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess found Alaska's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman unconstitutional. Despite back and forth in the first week of the ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately denied review of the case, allowing marriages to proceed pending further guidance from the 9th Circuit. The state was also denied a larger, 11-judge en banc review of the case.

With the Supreme Court set to rule on four other same-sex marriage cases, its decision is likely to affect the Alaska status.

"The court's order makes it clear that it will address the same issues that are at the heart of the Alaska same-sex marriage case," Richards said in the statement.

The campaign of now-Gov. Bill Walker said last year it would review the state's appeal of the Burgess decision, saying Walker would consider dropping the case if it meant "pursuing expensive litigation that has little chance of victory is an unwise use of our dwindling resources."

Caitlin Shortell, one of three attorneys who represented plaintiffs in Hamby v. Parnell, expressed some frustration over Richards' decision to seek a stay. She said the state could have completely withdrawn the appeal from the 9th Circuit. Instead, the state on Tuesday asked the court for an extension of its appeal.

"The right thing to do would be to drop the appeal," she said. "From a budgetary standpoint, it's a waste of money."

Suzanna Caldwell

Suzanna Caldwell is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Dispatch. She left the ADN in 2017.