Alaska News

A short history of same-sex marriage in Alaska

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess found Alaska's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman unconstitutional Sunday, Oct. 12, almost 16 years after voters approved it in 1998. Below is a short timeline outlining major events in Alaska's road toward same-sex marriage.

1995: Anchorage residents Jay Brause and Gene Dugan apply for a marriage license in Alaska. The petition is denied under the reasoning that the two are both men. The two move to have Alaska's marriage statute -- which at the time does not indicate which sexes can marry -- deemed unconstitutional.

February 1998: An Anchorage Superior Court judge rules in favor of Brause in the case Brause v. Vital Statistics, noting that "each person has a 'fundamental right' to choose his or her 'life partner,' whether that partner is of the same or opposite sex." The state appealed the decision to the Alaska Supreme Court, which declined to rule in the case.

March 1998: The Alaska State Legislature reacts quickly to the ruling, moving to add an amendment to Alaska's constitution defining marriage explicitly as between "one man and woman" just days after the judge's ruling.

May 1998: The Legislature approves adopting the amendment by more than the two-thirds majority needed in each chamber to amend the constitution.

November 1998: Voters overwhelmingly agree with adopting the amendment, with 68 percent of voters approving it.

June 2013: The U.S. Supreme Court rules to strike down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act in the United States v. Windsor. The decision starts a ripple effect of overturning marriage bans across the U.S., with other district and appeals courts citing it as justification that state bans are unconstitutional under equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution's 14th Amendment.


May 2014: Five couples file suit in Hamby v. Parnell challenging Alaska's same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional, citing the Windsor decision and others. The state argues that the voters, not the courts, are the ultimate authorities when it comes to defining marriage in the state.

Oct. 6, 2014: The U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear appeals in a handful of marriage cases, thereby letting the rulings in 11 states stand.

Oct. 7, 2014: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Alaska, rules that marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada are unconstitutional in Latta v. Otter under violations of the equal protection clause.

Oct. 10, 2014: Alaska attorneys argue for and against Alaska's same-sex marriage ban in U.S. District Court. During arguments, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns a stay in the 9th Circuit's decision on Idaho's law, one of the last challenges in the case.

Oct. 12, 2014: U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess issues his order finding Alaska's same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional, in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. The state says it plans to appeal the decision.

Oct. 13, 2014: Marriage licenses are issued to the first same sex couples in Alaska starting in the morning. At least three couples have the three-day waiting period waived and are married Monday afternoon. Despite the marriages, the Alaska Department of Law quickly files notice to appeal the decision the same day and asks for an emergency stay in the decision.

Oct. 14, 2014: Burgess denies the stay and issues a final judgment in Hamby v. Parnell, effectively closing the case at the U.S. District Court level. The state appeals to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency stay late that night.

Oct. 15, 2014: Plaintiffs in Hamby v. Parnell file an opposition to the 9th Circuit Court's motion for a stay. A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals approved a temporary stay good through the morning of Friday, Oct. 17, giving the state time to appeal for a stay from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Oct. 16, 2014: The state files its request for an emergency stay with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Oct. 17, 2014: The 9th Circuit stay dissolves at 11 a.m., allowing marriages to move forward. At 11:01 a.m. the U.S. Supreme Court issues a one-sentence order denying the stay, removing the last possible barrier in delaying marriages. However, with state offices being closed for Alaska Day, marriages will not resume until Monday morning, Oct. 20.

Oct. 20, 2014: Wedding licenses are officially issued. Stephanie Pearson and Courtney Lamb, two plaintiffs who challenged the same-sex marriage ban, pick up their completed marriage license and legally wed moments later. The couple is likely first same-sex couple in Anchorage to wed.

Oct. 22, 2014: The state of Alaska officially files for en banc review from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the court to consider Alaska's case as separate from Latta v. Otter.

Jan. 19, 2015: The U.S. Supreme Court decides it will hear a handful of marriage equality cases. The state of Alaska, under the leadership of Gov. Bill Walker, announces it is suspending its ongoing appeal until there is a ruling from the higher court.

April 2, 2015: State Attorney General Craig Richards has the state join an amicus brief in support of affirming same-sex marriage bans. It marks a public split with Gov. Walker, who said he supported Richards' decision, but that he would not have signed on to the brief.

June 26, 2015: The U.S. Supreme Court finds same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional violations of equal protection and due process. Marriages proceed as usual in Alaska. A state Department of Law spokeswoman said "it is anticipated the state will withdraw its appeal at the Ninth Circuit." As of June 16, 158 Alaska same-sex couples were wed since October.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified how the Alaska Supreme Court dealt with Brause v. Vital Statistics. The Supreme Court did hear oral arguments in the case but declined to rule on it.

Suzanna Caldwell

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