The Alaska Same-Sex Marriage Case That Could Finally Overturn the State's Ban
If there's any issue that's been a rare beacon of generally good, forward-moving, progressive news in recent years, it's how more and more states are legalizing marriage equality, allowing LGBT citizens to wed the people of their choosing, and forge that particular brand of long-term commitment. And the march doesn't seem to be slowing down — just take a look at the upcoming Alaska same-sex marriage case against the state's ban.
Filed on the behalf of five couples, four of them married outside of the state and one yet-unmarried within it, according to the AP, the angle the plaintiff's attorneys are taking is a bold and impressive one. In essence, they've arguing that the right of same-sex couples to marry is fundamental, and that the question is not whether they should be allowed to marry, but whether the state can make a case that prohibiting the right is legit, and not a violation of due process.
This isn't a bad plan, considering how mightily opponents of marriage equality have struggled with coherent arguments before courts of law lately — discomfort with the mere existence of married gay couples can be a hard thing to dress up before a judge, after all. It's slated to go before a federal judge on Friday, and as with countless legal challenges across the states so far, it has the potential to crumble Alaska's existing restrictions on marriage rights. In other words, it's definitely worth paying attention to.
According to the AP, the filing by a trio of plaintiff attorneys — Caitlin Shortell, Allison Mendel, and Heather Gardner — lays out the burden of argument clearly on the side of those who want to restrict marriage rights, rather than open them up.
... the issue is not whether there is a constitutional 'right to same-sex marriage,' but whether excluding people from a fundamental right that belongs to all individuals violates due process.
Regardless of the outcome, this case won't be the end of the conversation in Alaska. If the state ban is stripped away by a federal ruling, you can bet anything that state officials will try to secure a stay on the ruling, pending an appeal to a higher court. Such stays have been common throughout this cross-country legal drama, serving to prevent LGBT citizens from getting married for months upon months longer than would be necessary — if this wasn't so weirdly upsetting to people, that is.
And that forward-thinking attitude is reflected in the plaintiff's attorneys, as well. As Mendel told the Alaska Dispatch News, even if they're defeated in the case, they'll be mounting an appeal of their own.
Our eye is on appeal. Win or lose at trial court, we'll take it to the Ninth Circuit.
As Time detailed back in May, the thrust of the lawsuit is twofold — it aims both to legalize the performance of same-sex marriages within Alaska, and to force the state to recognize such out-of-state marriages as valid, just as they would with heterosexual marriage. At present, neither of these things are possible, thanks to a 1998 amendment to the state's constitution — Ballot Measure 2, it was called. It consists, as these things sometimes do, of a single sentence: "To be valid or recognized in this State, a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman.
But in all likelihood, that could start to change really soon. Here's hoping it's sooner rather than later, because after all, not everyone has months or years to wait.
Images: Getty Images (2)