Alaska News

In split with attorney general, Gov. Walker says he wouldn't have defended same-sex marriage ban

In an unusual split with his appointed attorney general, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said Friday that if given the chance to sign on to a U.S. Supreme Court friend-of-the-court brief supporting same-sex marriage bans, he would not have joined.

"Had it been solely my decision to join the amicus brief, I would have declined the invitation," Walker said in an emailed statement Friday. "However, I fully respect the role of the attorney general on matters defending Alaska's constitution."

The statement comes a day after Attorney General Craig Richards signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief filed by Louisiana with the nation's highest court defending same-sex marriage bans in 15 states -- eight of which have been overturned by court rulings, including Alaska's.

It also highlights a split between Alaska's chief executive and the head of the Department of Law. Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, said in states where the attorney general is elected, political splits are common. But that is rarely the case in Alaska, where the governor has the ability to hire and fire the attorney general.

"From a management perspective, it's nice the governor is supporting Attorney General Richards even though he got ahead of his skis, but from a broader perspective Gov. Walker's abdicating his responsibility that Alaska does not want to be part of just the 15 states that want to support bigotry," he said in a phone interview Friday.

In a statement Thursday, the Department of Law defended the decision to join the brief, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court case deals with "the same federalism issues that are at the heart of the Alaska constitutional amendment case." Department of Law spokesperson Cori Mills said in an email Friday that the state paid no fees to add itself to the brief written by S. Kyle Duncan, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney who has represented Alaska before.

The decision to join the brief brought outcry within Alaska's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, which expressed frustrations over the state's actions and specifically over campaign promises made by Walker indicating he would review and possibly decline appealing the case that overturned Alaska's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban in October.


Drew Phoenix, executive director of Identity Inc. and Alaskans Together for Equality, said the governor had meetings with the LGBT community before and after the election last year in an effort to create a dialog.

He said some of that seemed lost after Thursday's announcement. Phoenix called signing on to the amicus brief "a betrayal of trust." The reasoning behind supporting the attorney general's decision -- that it was a state's rights issue -- was "a cop-out," Phoenix said.

"It's a way of not taking blame for something," he said. "(Walker) could have made another choice."

Indra Arriaga, an Anchorage artist, writer and research consultant, said that late Thursday she and others from the LGBT community were invited to a conference call with the governor, who explained the decision to sign on to the brief. She said the governor told callers that the 20-minute call was not "damage control."

Arriaga said he then told listeners that signing on to the brief was something "he hoped hadn't happened."

"It wasn't exactly an apology as much as a 'I'm sorry it had to go this way, but there's a separation between AG's office and governor's office,'" Arriaga said in a phone interview Friday.

Arriaga said that during the conference call there was a focus on the division between the two offices, though she noted that the governor continued to support the decision of the attorney general even if it was different from his own.

Arriaga said she pressed the governor on that point, noting that not only is Richards appointed by the governor but the two are former law partners.

"On the one hand, he's saying the AG is independent to do what it wants but on the other hand saying that (the governor) is ultimately responsible," she said. "You can't do both at the same time. He's walking a fine line but he's actually not walking it all. He has both feet on both sides at the same time."

Suzanna Caldwell

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