Alaska News

First Alaska same-sex couples wed after waiting period waived

Alaska's same-sex couples looking to marry got a bit of a surprise Monday when news came late in the day that a handful of couples had expedited their weddings, skipping what's normally a three-day waiting period after a marriage license application is filed.

At least three same-sex Alaska couples were married Monday afternoon, the first full day that same-sex marriage was legal in Alaska, after local judges expedited their applications. Many Alaska couples applying for licenses believed they would not be able to marry until Thursday morning at the earliest.

Typically, Alaska marriage licensing procedures require couples to pay a $60 processing fee and then pick up their license three days later.

But the Alaska marriage statute includes a provision that couples may ask for a waiver if the three-day waiting period "would result in undue hardship or delay in an individual case."

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services spokesman Jason Grenn said it is rare but not unheard of for courts to grant requests for expedited marriage. He said it's often used for couples facing military deployment or illness.

Grenn said the language of the statute is "open to interpretation" by the licensing officers.

"It's up to the judge," he said.

Barrow residents Kristine Hilderbrand, 30, and Sarah Ellis, 34, are likely the first same-sex couple to be married in Alaska, followed shortly thereafter in Barrow by Kelly Cahoon and Bernice Oyagak. Neither couple went to the Barrow courthouse Monday expecting to be married, but when were told they could expedite the marriages, they quickly appealed to the local magistrate, who married both couples shortly after 4 p.m. Monday.

In Ketchikan, Chad Valadez and Jay Hochberg went to the courthouse early Monday morning expecting to just apply for the license.

Despite Hochberg's job as a public defender, he said he was unaware the marriage could be expedited. Like the couples in Barrow, he thought they would simply apply for the license and get it after three days. But when clerks informed them of the law, they were happy to apply it. Hochberg said Ketchikan, like Barrow, is a small town, where people tend to know each other. He said that probably makes it easier for local authorities to rule out that the marriage was a spur-of-the-moment decision.

"Clearly they felt we'd waited long enough," Hochberg said. "It was a happy surprise."

Valadez, a clinical psychologist, said the judge offered to marry them right away, but he and Hochberg had work appointments in the morning. They returned later and married at 4:15 p.m.

The couple, together for eight years, have no plans for a big party soon but still plan to celebrate.

"Now we're trying to figure where to go for the honeymoon," Hochberg said.

Though the Monday unions were the first legal same-sex weddings in Alaska, some other couples were already seen as married in the eyes of the law. The moment U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess handed down his Sunday decision in Hamby v. Parnell, which directly challenged the state's same-sex marriage ban, couples legally married in other states and nations became officially recognized as married in Alaska.

In an interview Monday, attorney Allison Mendel, one of three who represented plaintiffs in the Hamby case, said couples married in other states need not apply for a marriage license in Alaska. Their licenses from other states will be recognized, as will Alaska's marriage license in states that have full marriage equality, she said.

Having another license will only create confusion in terms of marriage dates, Mendel said. That could lead to problems in accessing partner benefits dependent on the date of marriage.

"Have a party, have a ceremony, but don't get married again," Mendel said.

Suzanna Caldwell

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

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