News (USA)

Federal judge considers fate of Alaska same-sex marriage ban


Updated: 7:15 p.m. AKDT

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – A federal judge in Alaska promised a quick decision after hearing arguments Friday to overturn the first-in-the-nation ban on gay marriages.

Five gay couples sued the state to strike down the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998 that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. They say it violates their U.S. constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection.

Arguments for the plaintiffs were bolstered Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to intervene in the issue, making gay marriage legal in a number of states. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to which Alaska belongs, the following day struck down similar bans in Idaho and Nevada.

Each side in the Alaska case was given 30 minutes to present its case. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Allison Mendel, said she anticipated using only a little bit of that time and would save the remainder for rebuttal.

“Are you anticipating the landscape is going to change while we’re talking?” joked U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” she responded.

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Mendel said the 9th Circuit’s decision in the Nevada case set the precedent on equal protection within the circuit. The Nevada decision, she said, “is controlling on this court in every respect.”

She added of the state’s ban on gay marriage: “I think you can reach no other conclusion this is impermissible discrimination under the equal protection clause.”

Assistant Alaska Attorney General Bill Milks argued the ban was put in place by voters and the Legislature, and the state has every intention of defending the ban.

“The state of Alaska’s position is that this is a law that was democratically passed by voters and the Legislature,” he said. “We don’t think there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage.”

But under direct questioning from Burgess, Milks acknowledged that it appeared the Nevada decision rules this case.

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