The state of Alaska will begin accepting marriage applications from same-sex couples first thing on Monday, after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage – the nation’s first such ban approved by voters.
The decision on Sunday caught many people off guard. No rallies were immediately planned, but some plaintiffs celebrated over drinks at an Anchorage bar.
Matthew Hamby, who along with his husband Christopher Shelden was one of five couples to sue, was “just having drinks with friends, enjoying it”.
He said he was “elated” US district court judge Timothy Burgess sided with them, and he planned to among the first in line to apply for a license on Monday.
“This is just an amazing day for Alaska. We’re just so fortunate that so many have fought for equality for so long – I mean, decades,” said Susan Tow, who along with her wife, Chris Laborde, were among couples who sought to overturn Alaska’s ban.
The state will begin accepting applications first thing Monday morning, Phillip Mitchell, with the state Department of Vital Statistics, told the Associated Press in an email. Alaska has a three-day waiting period between between applications and marriage ceremonies.
Earlier in the week, the US supreme court declined to hear appeals from several states that were seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage.
The move on 6 October means that gay marriage is now effectively legal in about 30 states. But much of last week was marked by confusion as lower courts and states worked through when weddings can begin.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in the West overturned marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho. On Thursday, West Virginia officials began issuing gay marriage licenses, and Kansas’ most populous county issued a marriage license Friday to a gay couple, believed to be the first such license in the state.
Sunday’s ruling in Alaska came in a lawsuit brought by five gay couples who had asked the state in May to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998, the first such ban in the nation. The amendment defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The lawsuit sought to bar enforcement of Alaska’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It also called for barring enforcement of any state laws that refuse to recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states or countries or that prevent unmarried gay couples from marrying.
Burgess heard arguments Friday afternoon and promised a quick decision. He released his 25-page decision Sunday afternoon.
“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,” Burgess wrote.