Five same-sex couples have filed a lawsuit this past Monday challenging Alaska’s 1998 constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely being between a man and a woman on the grounds that it’s unconstitutional. The suit hopes to not only overturn the gay marriage ban, but to also force Alaska to recognize same-sex marriages from other states and countries.
Times have changed in the 16 years since Alaskan voters approved the amendment. In the past year alone, federal courts have opposed state constitutional bans from a variety of different states, while other states like Hawaii and Illinois have legalized same-sex marriage.
Also, the U.S. Supreme Court shot down the Defense of Marriage Act this year, which would have prevented same-sex, married couples from being able to receive a wide range of federal benefits.
Following this decision, attorney Caitlin Shortell began working on the Alaskan lawsuit, as the ruling allowed for lower courts to make decisions that have been able to slowly chip away at other states’ bans.
“A couple who marries in Seattle and returns home to Alaska are married in the eyes of the law when their plane lifts off from SeaTac (airport) but are legal strangers when the flight touches down in Alaska,” said Heather Gardner, one of the other two attorneys working on the lawsuit. “No Alaskan is a second-class citizen.”
Though lawyers expect resistance from the Republican-dominated state legislature, there is support. state senator Hollis French proposed this past February to abolish the same-sex marriage ban, declaring it “blot on our state constitution.” Though his push didn’t gain any traction, perhaps this lawsuit may be able to overturn the amendment.