Alaska News

Same-sex couples wed in Barrow as state seeks stay on gay marriage ruling

NOTE: This article has been updated. Click here for the latest version.

Update, 5:45 p.m.: It appears that at least two same-sex couples have been married in Barrow, according to Kristine Hilderbrand, who said state Magistrate Mary Treiber waived the three-day waiting period required after issuing of marriage licenses. Hilderbrand said she married Sarah Ellis at about 4 p.m. Monday. The two are likely the first same-sex couples to be married in Alaska. Department of Heath and Social Services spokesman Jason Grenn said the state was still reviewing the legality of the marriages.

Update, 2:45 p.m.: The state of Alaska filed an emergency motion for a stay on a Sunday ruling overturning Alaska's ban on same-sex marriage, pending final appeal in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday afternoon. The state argues that since the 9th Circuit could potentially hear the case "en banc" -- before a larger panel of judges than the three who decided the Nevada and Idaho cases last week -- and that there is a "reasonable likelihood" that a circuit split will develop in the near future, the court should issue the stay in order to "avoid chaos" in the administration of Alaska's marriage laws. Until a judge rules on the motion, marriages in Alaska will be allowed to proceed.

Original story: Couples lined up early Monday at the Anchorage office of the Bureau of Vital Statistics to obtain marriage licenses, a day after a U.S. District Court judge overturned Alaska's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Stephanie Pearson and Courtney Lamb were first in line before the Midtown offices opened Monday. The couple was one of five who were plaintiffs in Hamby v. Parnell, the case that directly challenged Alaska's constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1998 defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Along with their IDs and a marriage application they had already filled out Friday, the women brought a copy of Sunday's court decision by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess, "just in case," Lamb said.

Bringing the decision proved unnecessary, as couples quickly applied for licenses without issue. Marriage applications had already been updated to include gender-neutral listings for couples, identifying them as "party A" and "party B"instead of the former "bride" and "groom" designations previously included.

Lamb and Pearson, who have been together for almost two years, were the only couple of the five challenging the law not already married in another jurisdiction.

"We felt that we live in this state so we shouldn't have to go somewhere else," Lamb said. "Especially since it wouldn't have been recognized here."


Couples must wait three days after applying to actually wed. Pearson said the couple plans to legally wed Thursday, with a formal ceremony to follow in May.

Gov. Sean Parnell said the state would appeal Sunday's decision that found Alaska's law unconstitutional due to violations of the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. In his order, Burgess declared marriages should proceed immediately.

That appeal hadn't been filed as of Monday morning. With federal courts closed for Columbus Day, it remains unclear when a judge would consider an appeal.

Despite the looming appeal, couples steadily applied for licenses Monday, expressing excitement and jubilation over the proceedings.

"It feels like we've been waiting forever," Lamb said. "I think the next three days will take longer than they should."

Suzanna Caldwell

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