JUNEAU Alaska (Reuters) - A federal judge will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging Alaska’s 16-year-old constitutional ban on gay marriage on Friday, following a week of court rulings backing same-sex unions in seven other states.
The hearing comes days after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legalized the unions in Nevada and Idaho, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld lower court rulings overturning bans in Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana.
The rulings have given new momentum to legal battles to allow same-sex-unions. They and a successful challenge in Alaska could extend the marriages to 35 of the country’s 50 states - though opponents have said they will challenge the decisions.
Five couples, one of which wants to marry in Alaska and four others who have already legally wed in other states, filed their suit challenging the ban in May.
They sought a summary judgment in August, saying the state’s marriage bans violate due process and equal protection.
“Alaska’s marriage bans infringe upon the fundamental right to marry and discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender,” they wrote.
In 1998, Alaska voters overwhelmingly pushed through a constitutional amendment that excludes same-sex couples from marriage.
The state has argued that it is up to the voters to decide such policy issues saying, “the definition of marriage is an issue for the states and the will of the voters of each state should govern regardless of whether the federal government or a federal court agrees.”
Joshua Decker, an Anchorage-based attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said citizens’ civil rights were at issue in the case, not the state’s.
“Alaskans are sincerely and genuinely harmed each and every day they cannot get married ... By doing that, Alaska makes some of its citizens second class,” he said.
Editing by Andrew Heavens