Several gay couples lined up early on Monday in Anchorage to apply for marriage licenses after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on same-sex unions.
Matthew Hamby, the lead plaintiff in the case to make gay marriage legal in Alaska, was among the first to arrive and spent most of the morning helping others. He got to his application only after the steady stream of couples began to dwindle.
The state has a three-day waiting period between applications and marriage ceremonies, meaning the first unions could come Thursday. In the meantime, Gov. Sean Parnell has promised an appeal to get the ban reinstated, and lawyers for the state are looking for weaknesses in the ruling.
Alaska gay marriage opponents have said the matter should be decided by the people, not the courts.
Hamby called the governor's plans “ridiculous and futile.” He said restoring the ban would harm same-sex couples by depriving them of equal protection under the law, a position U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess agreed with in his ruling Sunday.
“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 in overturning the ban.
At the Department of Vital Statistics on Monday, couples filled out an application that had changed overnight from seeking information and the “bride and groom” to “Party A and B."
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. The Oct. 6 move effectively legalized gay marriage in about 30 states and triggered a flurry of rulings and confusion in lower courts across the nation, including the Alaska decision.
Five gay couples brought the Alaska lawsuit in May, seeking to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998. The Alaska amendment defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.
The lawsuit sought to bar enforcement of the ban or any state laws that refuse to recognize gay marriages legally performed in other states and countries or that prevent unmarried gay couples from marrying.
The judge heard arguments Friday and released his decision about 48 hours later. Burgess said the laws violated gay couples' due process and equal protection rights.
The state's chances of winning an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were slim since it already has ruled against Idaho and Nevada, which made similar arguments last week.
In the past year, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that prevented legally married same-sex couples from receiving a range of federal benefits. Federal courts also have since struck down state constitutional bans in a number of states.