On Friday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage rendered moot the state’s pending appeal in its own case, Hamby v. Parnell. While it was possible for the state to continue pushing on the issue, dragging out opposition to the court’s decision, Gov. Bill Walker’s administration signaled it plans to drop the case and respect the court’s judgment. That’s the right call. The court’s ruling was correct, and the guarantees of equal protection granted by the 14th Amendment are more whole today than before the decision.
Alaska’s history with regard to same-sex marriage is an interesting one — while state residents hold dear the right to privacy, they also tend toward socially conservative views. In 1998, the state became the first in the U.S. to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
But in 2014, the tide of sentiment on the issue was changing rapidly, both in Alaska and the country as a whole. In April, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples were entitled to property tax exemptions that married heterosexual couples enjoyed, and in July, the court extended those rights to include survivor benefits as well, citing constitutional guarantees to equal protection under the law.
In October 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess ruled Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. It was part of a watershed of federal court decisions paving the way for a final showdown over marriage rights — a fight that ended Friday morning.
Then-Gov. Sean Parnell had appealed Judge Burgess’ ruling, but when he lost the gubernatorial election to Bill Walker in November, marriage equality advocates hoped he would drop the state protest. The new administration opted to continue the legal wrangling, however, with Gov. Walker giving the roundabout explanation that he personally opposed continuing the suit but Attorney General Craig Richards, his former law firm partner, decided to press on.
It was an odd explanation given the fact Mr. Richards serves at the governor’s pleasure, but sometimes in politics one learns not to expect a straight answer. Regardless, after Friday’s decision the administration appeared to see the writing on the wall and signaled they will not continue the state’s appeal or attempt to otherwise delay the Supreme Court’s decision from going into effect, as some states in the Lower 48 have vowed to do.
That’s the right call, and those upset about the amount of time and money spent on the case thus far can take at least some solace in the fact no more will follow.
The path to equal protection under the law has not been easy for those denied rights until yesterday, and many who were invested in the cause did not live to see the decision. But on issues of such importance, a right granted late is better than it not having been granted at all. The Supreme Court’s ruling, in recognizing the right of same-sex couples to enter legal union, has made the principle of equal protection under the law for all citizens more whole.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,