Alaska News

Alaska among 15 states defending same-sex marriage bans in Supreme Court

Alaska joined 14 states Thursday in encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold same-sex marriage bans across the country.

The 42-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed Thursday by Louisiana and joined by the other states, argues that states have a fundamental right to define marriage and that the voters, not the courts, should be the ultimate arbiters when it comes to creating that definition.

"The U.S. Supreme Court is currently addressing the same federalism issues that are at the heart of the Alaska constitutional amendment case, which is currently stayed before the 9th Circuit (U.S.) Court of Appeals," Alaska Department of Law spokesperson Cori Mills wrote in an emailed statement. "Until such time as we have a final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the attorney general has a duty to defend Alaska's Constitution, which is why we signed on to the amicus brief."

Alaskans voted to amend the state's constitution in 1998 to define marriage as between one man and one woman. That definition held until October, when U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess ruled in Hamby v. Parnell that Alaska's ban was unconstitutional under the due process and equal protections clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

After a week of legal back-and-forth, marriages proceeded in the state pending appeals to both the 9th Circuit and Supreme Court levels. Alaska's case is in the 9th Circuit but all activity in that appeal has been stayed pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

Allison Mendel, one of three attorneys who represented plaintiffs in the Hamby case, said she was "appalled" by the state's decision to sign on to the brief Thursday.

Mendel said that given statements made by then-candidate Gov. Bill Walker, who indicated he would possibly drop further appeals of the case during the campaign, Mendel found the decision to sign on the brief Thursday "not innocuous."


"No one thinks it's about federalism except the people who signed (the brief)," Mendel said. "It's about equal protection and due process."

Mendel expressed frustration over the state's efforts, noting that the attorney general's office could have continued to challenge the case at lower levels instead of supporting the Supreme Court case.

"They have no obligation to sign on to an amicus brief," she said. "That's going out and picking fights when you don't have to."

Supreme Court oral arguments on the matter are set for April 28. A decision is expected later in the year.

Suzanna Caldwell

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