Group challenging Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban

Alaska Pride Flag (Photo by Mel Green)

Alaska Pride Flag (Photo by Mel Green)

Alaska was the first state in the country to add a ban on same-sex marriage to its Constitution. Now, five gay couples are trying to strike that ban down.

The  complaint was filed in federal district court yesterday, and it names Gov. Sean Parnell as the lead defendant. The parties are challenging the ban on the grounds that it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

Caitlin Shortell is one of three attorneys representing the couples.

“I think there’s a very strong, growing recognition that laws that single out a particular group of people to deny them rights do not square with the U.S. Constitution. And in fact, not with the Alaska Constitution,” Shortell said.

All but one of the couples challenging the ban have already been married in other states. But their marriages are not recognized by Alaska because of the ban that was instated in 1998. The fifth couple is unmarried, but would like to wed in Alaska.

Because the state officials named in suit have not seen the complaint, a spokesperson from the Department of Law could not comment on the case.

The State Supreme Court has ruled as recently as last month that gay couples need to be treated equally under law in situations like employee benefits and tax breaks, but it has skirted the question of whether the marriage ban conflicts with other parts of the Alaska Constitution.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages. Federal judges have struck down marriage bans in several states since that ruling.

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