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Alaska judge hears same-sex marriage arguments

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published October 10, 2014

Update: Oral arguments challenging Alaska's same-sex marriage were held Friday, just days after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled similar bans in other states are unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess heard the arguments Friday, though he had no immediate ruling on the issue. Plaintiffs have asked for summary judgment in the case, which challenges Alaska's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. If overturned, same-sex couples in Alaska could seek marriage licenses.

Burgess' ruling could come as soon as Monday.

In a packed federal courtroom Friday, attorneys in Hamby v. Parnell both argued their cases for why Alaska's marriage ban should be either upheld or overturned. Five couples sued the state in May, saying their equal protection and due process rights are violated since they cannot legally be married or have their marriages recognized in Alaska.

Alaska was one of the first states to explicitly ban same sex marriage, in 1998, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 28 states as of Friday, with appellate court rulings in seven other states likely to overturn marriage bans in the near future.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Original story: Oral arguments challenging Alaska's same-sex marriage ban are set for 1 p.m. Friday, just days after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled similar bans in other states are unconstitutional.

Attorneys in Hamby v. Parnell will argue their reasoning why Alaska's marriage ban should be either upheld or overturned. Five plaintiffs sued the state in May, saying their equal protection and due process rights are violated since they cannot legally be married or have their marriages recognized in Alaska.

Alaska was one of the first states to explicitly ban same-sex marriage in 1998, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

On Tuesday, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that similar same-sex marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho were unconstitutional. Many of the arguments presented in that case are similar to arguments found in the Hamby case. Advocates for same-sex marriage say the ruling is likely overturn Alaska's ban, since the 9th Circuit Court -- based in San Francisco -- has jurisdiction over the state.

However, the 9th Circuit ruling caused some confusion in other states. Nevada briefly postponed marriages after the U.S. Supreme Court accidentally issued a stay in the case. The clerical error was corrected and marriages began Thursday evening.

Montana and Arizona, other 9th Circuit states, also have marriage lawsuits pending.

Monday the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a handful of same-sex marriage appeals. Advocates have interpreted the move as saying the high court agrees with lower court decisions that have overturned marriage bans across the nation.

Attorneys for the Alaska plaintiffs, five Alaska couples who have either been married in other states or wish to marry in their home state, argue that Alaska's ban is unconstitutional and that by denying couples the ability to marry it presents a host of "obstacles and difficulties" in obtaining legal benefits and responsibilities that come with marriage. In a filing last week challenging the Alaska Department of Law's position upholding the ban, attorneys for the plaintiffs note that the state's arguments have been rejected by nearly every court nationwide. They are asking that U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess issue a summary judgment overturning the ban.

The state, in defending the constitution, disagrees and wrote in its own filing last week that voters, not the courts, are the ultimate arbiters of whether same sex marriage should be permitted or not.

Each side will have 30 minutes Friday to present its case at the Anchorage Federal Courthouse. A rally and press conference in support of the plaintiffs is planned following the oral arguments.

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