On Sunday, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess struck down the Alaska’s constitutional ban against gay marriage, and ordered the state to immediately begin marrying same sex couples. The state
could appeal, IS going to appeal. (Read the press release on that below.) But it will almost certainly lose. The state will have to appeal to the 9th Circuit, which has recently upheld such rulings, as has the U.S. Supreme Court. On Friday, Burgess heard arguments in Anchorage from lawyers of five couples suing the state to overturn the ban, which was enacted in 1998. The state defended the ban, arguing, basically, that voters get to decide marriage laws.
Burgess was nominated by President George W. Bush to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska, where he served until 2005. Bush then nominated him to sit on the bench. He was confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate in December, 2005.
Here’s the summary and the conclusion from the 27-page ruling. Read the full ruling here.
In sum, any relationship between Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws and the government interests asserted by Defendants is either nonexistent or purely speculative. Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws are a prime example of how “the varying treatment of different groups or persons is so unrelated to the achievement of any combination of legitimate purposes that we can only conclude that the legislature’s actions were irrational.” Refusing the rights and responsibilities afforded by legal marriage sends the public a government-sponsored message that same-sex couples and their familial relationships do not warrant the status, benefits, and dignity given to couples of the opposite sex. This Court finds that Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because no state interest provides “exceedingly persuasive justification” for the significant infringement of rights that they inflict upon homosexual individuals.
Any state interests identified by Defendants are insufficient for Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws to pass constitutional muster under due process or equal protection. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment at Docket 20 is GRANTED. With this ruling, the Court hereby DECLARES that Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws are unconstitutional for violating the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Court IMMEDIATELY ENJOINS the state of Alaska, including state officers, personnel, agents, government divisions, and other political entities, from enforcing Alaska Constitution Article 1, Section 25 and Alaska Statute Sections 25.05.011 and 25.05.013 to the extent that the laws prohibit otherwise qualified same-sex couples from marriage and refusing to recognize lawful same-sex marriages entered in other states.
Here’s the press release from Gov. Sean Parnell’s office announcing that it will appeal the decision:
Governor Sean Parnell announced today that the State will appeal the U.S. District Court’s ruling invalidating Alaska’s constitutional definition of marriage.
“As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” said Governor Parnell. “Although the district court today may have been bound by the recent Ninth Circuit panel opinion, the status of that opinion and the law in general in this area is in flux. I will defend our constitution.”
The State of Alaska argued in its brief before the district court that the definition of marriage should be left to the democratic process of the states. It was through this democratic process that a majority of Alaskans voted for the constitutional amendment, which has since been challenged.
As stated in the brief to the district court, “The question of whether to define marriage to include the right to marry someone of the same sex is an important question of public policy. But it is a decision for the citizenry to make through the democratic process, not the judiciary.”
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review several cases on similar constitutional bans in other states. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled the next day that constitutional amendments in Nevada and Idaho must be overturned. On Wednesday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stayed the Ninth Circuit panel’s ruling at the request of Idaho, putting a halt to implementation of the decision, and that order was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court on Friday. Whether Idaho will request and receive review by the full panel of the Ninth Circuit is uncertain. There are also other circuit courts that have not ruled yet, which will likely result in additional requests for U.S. Supreme Court review once those cases are complete.