Alaska News

Court decision halts same-sex marriages as Alaska seeks higher court decision

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay halting same-sex marriage in Alaska Wednesday, a day after a lower court denied a similar request.

The two-page order granted a temporary stay in Sunday's Hamby v. Parnell ruling until 11 a.m. Alaska time Friday, giving the state an opportunity to seek a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state said it would seek the higher court stay and enforce the stay at the 9th Circuit. Department of Law Spokeswoman Cori Mills said in an email "the state cannot issue any marriage licenses until the stay is lifted."

"The state will be filing a request for a stay with the U.S. Supreme Court, as suggested by the Ninth Circuit in its order granting a temporary stay," she wrote.

Couples began applying for marriage licenses Monday morning in the hopes of legally marrying after the three-day waiting period ended Thursday. Some couples expedited their requests Monday, with at least three couples marrying Monday in Barrow and Ketchikan.

Wednesday's decision marks another day of a legal back and forth in the ruling. Sunday U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess found Alaska's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. He denied a stay for the order Tuesday. The state quickly appealed for a decision at the 9th Circuit.

Unless the Supreme Court decides to either grant a longer stay or dissolve the 9th Circuit's decision before then, marriages won't resume until Friday at 11 a.m.


However, it is unclear if even that will be possible. State offices, including courts, will be closed Friday for Alaska Day. Marriages might not resume until Monday.

The state originally asked the 9th Circuit court to rule before Thursday, when couples who applied for marriage licenses Monday could officially begin to marry. At least 15 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses on the first day they could.

ACLU of Alaska Executive Director Joshua Decker noted that the series of events is the similar to what happened with Idaho. A stay was granted by Justice Anthony Kennedy but quickly lifted by a decision from the Supreme Court.

Decker expressed frustration over the state's actions Wednesday.

"Alaska has the ability to marry people, and we wish that they would, because marriage is more than love and commitment. Not being able to get married harms Alaskans," Decker said. "It's not just an intellectual or emotional exercise; there are real rights that come with it and real rights that are denied by the state's actions."

Courtney Lamb and Stephanie Pearson, two of the plaintiffs in the Hamby case and the first to apply for a marriage license Monday morning, had planned to marry early Thursday. The two planned to pick up their license at the Bureau of Vital Statistics and perform a ceremony shortly afterward. That had been postponed as of Wednesday night.

In a Facebook message, Pearson called the decision "just a brief setback."

"This will happen!" she wrote.

Suzanna Caldwell

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