IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Judge strikes down Alaska's same-sex marriage ban

The nation's oldest voter-approved amendment banning same-sex nuptials has fallen.
A man wears a rainbow flag in his pocket, December 8, 2013.
A man wears a rainbow flag in his pocket, December 8, 2013.

The nation's oldest voter-approved amendment banning same-sex nuptials has fallen. On Sunday afternoon, a federal judge struck down Alaska's 1998 amendment defining marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.

"[A]ny relationship between Alaska’s same-sex marriage laws and the government interests asserted by Defendants is either nonexistent or purely speculative," wrote U.S. District Judge Timothy M. Burgess, a President George W. Bush appointee, in his 25-page ruling. "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."

Alaska's was the first ban of its kind, soon replicated in state legislatures across the country, and now the latest casualty in an unprecedented wave of pro-marriage equality rulings, set off by the Supreme Court's decision last year to invalidate the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.) Less than a week ago, the high court again made a bold move on behalf of same-sex couples hoping to wed, this time by declining to review any of the seven marriage equality cases before it, and passing up the opportunity to hand down another landmark ruling.

Related: Five questions about marriage equality, answered

On Monday, the justices refused to hear challenges against same-sex marriage bans in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin – all of which saw their bans fall in both federal district and appeals courts. The move immediately legalized marriage equality in those five states, and doomed bans in six others that make up the 4th, 7th, and 10th Circuits. A day later, another federal appeals court -- the 9th Circuit -- struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada, essentially making bans in three other states bound to that appellate ruling impossible to defend. Those states include Montana, Arizona and Alaska. 

Once the full effects of the past week's court actions are fully realized, there will be 35 states, plus the District of Columbia, where gay and lesbian couples can legally wed. A week ago, that number was 19. It may take time, however, for some of those states to legalize marriage equality, as several elected officials have vowed to continue defending their bans.

“As Alaska’s governor, I have a duty to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution,” said the state's Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, Sarah Palin's successor, in a statement. “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.”