Alaska federal judge strikes down gay marriage ban. Orders state to comply immediately. State will appeal.

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.


9 thoughts on “Alaska federal judge strikes down gay marriage ban. Orders state to comply immediately. State will appeal.

  1. Anonymous

    Parnell also swore to uphold the United States constitution. And, as numerous circuit courts as well as Judge Burgess have found, the ban on same sex marriage is in violation of the US constitution. He’s not “doing his job” he’s pandering to an ever-shrinking base, wasting our money, and violating the US constitution.

  2. Straitlaced Radical

    If you swear an oath to uphold and defend the constitution, what other choice do you have but to appeal when part of it is struck down? The executive branch has to enforce laws, whether it likes them or not, and should be standing by the constitution until the high court rules.

  3. Sam P.

    Let’s suppose that the same court struck down our State Constitution’s Article 8 clause. Would you think the governor should take that ruling to the Supreme Court? I should hope so. I would be very disappointed if our governor didn’t defend our constitution.

    Alaska’s citizens wanted the constitution changed to reflect what marriage is; this occurred back in 1998. Here was the vote: 152,962 favored the amendment and 71,631 opposed it.

    It is astounding the amount of ugliness that is generated by this matter. On both sides. At this point it appears the liberals are winning in the hatefulness contest. They’ve hit some new lows.

    I say, let it go to the high court, and then when the high court does what we know it will do, we can move on, because there will be nothing more to see. Boys will marry boys. Girls will marry girls. Just like they do in the 18 other countries. Then we can move on to tackle the ban on polygamy. That will be fun!

  4. LS

    What I read was that the Governor was appealing to uphold the Alaska Constitution which his job. And there is a legislative process to change the Constitution when we, the people, want to do that.

  5. akmom

    Good for you, Northern Observer! Regardless of religious beliefs, appealing this is simply a waste of time and money.

  6. James

    The Governor’s grandchildren will one day read Alaska’s history of the Parnell administration and be horrified. They will read about his fiscal irresponsibility, his lack of leadership, the Guard scandal and how he slapped against the tide of civil rights for gays. They will likely be horribly embarrassed. At least they will understand why he wasn’t re-elected and why he was best known by his nick name Captain Zero.

  7. Northern Observer

    Judge Burgess, as fully expected, ruled to strike down Alaska’s same sex prohibition. Given the recent decisions by the Ninth Circuit and by SCOTUS, the law of the and was pretty well determined. I have long believed that marriage should be an issue between a couple and their church. I don’t see a place for the state in this issue. Needless to say, I was upset that Governor Parnell so quickly issued a statement that the state would appeal Burgess’ decision. To me, this is the final straw that speaks to his ineptitude to be a responsible leader. Being governor requires you sometimes to do more than your Bible school teacher may approve. Further, it is an irresponsible waste of state resources and makes him look like a pandering Tea Party zealot.
    I often post comments on this blog site and have supported Sean Parnell up to today. However, today’s action was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. He is a small-minded, fiscal fool. I am not gay. Soimply put, I am someone who respects religion, freedom and believes in equality. Obviously, Governor Parnell doesn’t.
    Maybe that’s why the National Guard scandal exists. Maybe in Parnell’s world women aren’t equal. I don’t know what to think. I feel very foolish having supported him. I will no longer be voting for Parnell.

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