Update (Friday 11:33 a.m.)
Same-sex marriages are legal again in Alaska. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the state a stay, which would have halted the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples until the 9th Circuit Court heard the state’s appeal early next year.
The week has been a legal ping-pong match. The Alaska District Court overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban on Sunday. Couples began applying for licenses on Monday and three couples were allowed to wed immediately. As others sat out the mandatory three-day waiting period, the state was granted a temporary stay by the 9th Circuit Court on Wednesday.
That stay was lifted this morning at 11 am when the Supreme Court denied the request. Same-sex couples can receive marriage licences when state courts and offices re-open on Monday. Today is a state holiday.
The 9th Circuit will hear the state’s appeal early next year. The state must file their brief by late January 2015.
By Margaret Friedenauer -KHNS
As same-sex couples filed for marriage licenses on Monday, they expected to have to wait until Thursday to wed. The state requires a three-day waiting period. But in smaller communities where couples file for a marriage license with their local courts, magistrates have the power to wave the three-day waiting period. That’s what happened in Haines on Tuesday when Phyllis Sage and Joann Waterman were married in front of a half dozen friends by Magistrate Judge John Hutchins on the Port Chilkoot Dock.
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Sage and Waterman had celebrated earlier in the week, on Sunday, when federal judge Timothy Burgess ruled Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The couple was cautiously optimistic that same-sex couples would actually be able to marry before the state’s appeal of the decision was decided. Over a bottle of champagne with two friends, they talked about wedding plans, likely many months away.
But then news of weddings in Barrow and Ketchikan circulated. Waterman called Magistrate Hutchins. He said he could marry them that afternoon. She called a local jeweler friend who fast-tracked a gold band. Then she called Sage and said the wedding was on.
“And of course, I said ‘Sure. Yes. It’s a beautiful sunny day. I will marry you, anywhere you want in Haines.’”
The couple has been together 13 years. They live together, operated a bed and breakfast and own property together. They had a private commitment ceremony a few years ago. And they’ve talked about getting married in another state. So it wasn’t a rushed decision, according Sage – just an opportunity to seize.
“We’ve got some staying power.”
Like the magistrates in Barrow and Ketchikan, Magistrate Hutchins waived the three-day waiting period usually required for marriage licenses. It’s a provision in state statute that allows the waiver if waiting the three days would result in undue hardship. The language is open for interpretation, but Hutchins quickly penned a two page legal opinion justifying his decision.
He writes that having lived together for many years and sharing a home and business, Sage and Waterman have not been afforded the privilege of a legal marriage and have been denied equal protection of the laws married couples get – including employee benefits, property succession and making medical decisions for each other. The last is important, Hutchins writes, because Sage is undergoing routine but major foot surgery next month.
At the end of his opinion Hutchins quotes a passage of a sample wedding ceremony from the Alaska Courts, writing “Joann and Phyllis ask the court to allow them the equal protection of the law so that they may legally exercise spousal rights to strengthen each other in all labor, minister to each other in all sorrow and share with each other the good things in life.”
Waterman says Hutchins’ opinion encapsulates the reason she and Sage wanted to get married as soon as possible.
“It’s a twofold thing for us. It’s being able to publically recognize love and commitment to each other and then to be afforded the same rights.”
Hutchins says he wrote the opinion because there is a chance the marriage could be challenged, depending on how the courts rule on the state’s appeal. But on Tuesday, Judge Burgess denied the state’s emergency request to halt same-sex marriages while the appeal was being heard, opening the door for gays and lesbians across the state to continue with their wedding plans.
For Waterman and Sage, the wedding was a long time coming for a long-term couple. As they walked arm-in-arm along the dock after the ceremony, Sage says the politics of her marriage was the last thing on her mind. She says it was about being able to marry her best friend and partner, in the state the couple calls home.
“To get married in our home state, we were both born here, this is home, how awesome is that?”