Update: Federal judge strikes down Alaska’s gay marriage ban

Update | Oct. 12, 2014 – 5:50 p.m.

Gov. Sean Parnell says he will appeal U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess’ ruling striking down Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban.

The state argued the definition of marriage should be left up to voters.

“As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” Parnell said in a statement on Sunday. “Although the district court today may have been bound by the recent 9th Circuit panel opinion, the status of that opinion and the law in general in this area is in flux. I will defend our constitution.”

Update | Oct. 12, 2014 – 4:43 p.m.

A federal judge has struck down Alaska’s first-in-the-nation ban on gay marriages.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess on Sunday said the ban violates the U.S. constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection.

The state could appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, where chances of it winning were slim since the federal appeals court already has ruled against Idaho and Nevada, which made similar arguments.

Five gay couples had asked the state of Alaska to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

This is breaking news and will be updated.

Original Post | Oct. 11, 2014 – 9:45 a.m.

same-sex marriage
Same-sex marriage supporters stand in the rain outside of the federal courthouse after the hearing. (Anne Hillman/KSKA)

Same-sex marriage is not legal in Alaska — yet. The US District Court judge chose not to make a decision today after hearing oral arguments from both the state and a group of couples who are fighting the marriage ban.

The arguments were complicated by the recent 9th District Court decision in the case Latta v. Otter that overturned the same-sex marriage ban in Idaho. Alaska is within the 9th Circuit, so that decision holds here as well.

The Idaho decision says that same-sex marriage bans violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because straight couples have the right to marry but same-sex couples do not. The plaintiffs argue that same-sex couples don’t have the same rights when buying property, visiting each other in the hospital, or even seeking a divorce.

The state tried to argue that Idaho decision could be overruled by a higher court especially since marriages there were put on hold because of a stay. That stay was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court as today’s oral arguments were concluding in Alaska.

The judge and the attorneys all referenced and joked about the complex, fast changing legal landscape surround same-sex marriage.

Alison Mendel argued the case on behalf of the couples. She says she’s been working on this issue for 25 years, and she sees this as a done deal.

“It was very enjoyable. You know we came into this pretty confident we were gonna win. When the Latta decision was decided, we knew we were gonna win. So this was just an argument about the details, but it’s still very satisfying anyway.”

The State declined to make comments on the case beyond what they argued in front of the judge, which could not be recorded.

Many of the people who packed the courtroom and spilled into an overflow room gathered in front of the courthouse after the hearing.

Josh Hemsath is with the Pride Foundation in Alaska. He said he’s hopeful.

“As an Alaskan, I think it’s really exciting that we’re not being left behind. we’re not the last state to get heard, with the momentum on our side and being on the right side of history.”

Judge Timothy Burgess said he would issue a decision soon.

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