Federal judge strikes down Alaska's marriage ban

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Federal judge strikes down Alaska's marriage ban
File- This oct. 10, 2014, file photo shows Matthew Hamby, left, and Christopher Shelden speaking during a news conference following a hearing in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska. A federal judge has struck down Alaska's first-in-the-nation ban on gay marriages. U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess on Sunday, Oct. 12, 2014, said the ban violates the U.S. constitutional guarantee of due process and equal protection. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
Lin Davis, of Juneau, Alaska, shown wearing an orange rain coat, holds signs supporting gay marriage during a news conference Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, outside the federal courthouse in Anchorage, Alaska. A federal judge on Friday heard arguments from five gay couples seeking to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
This undated handout photo provided by Tracey Wiese, left,shows Wiese and Kat Cortez at a 2012 wedding for Cortez’s sister. On Monday, May 12, 2014, they joined four other same-sex couples in suing the state of Alaska in federal court, arguing the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage violates their rights to due process and equal protection under the U.S. Constitution. (AP Photo/Courtesy of Tracey Wiese)
Christopher Shelden, left, and Matthew Hamby, speak to reporters following a hearing Friday, Oct. 10, 2014, in federal court in Anchorage, Alaska. They are one of five gay couples suing to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)
FILE - In this June 6, 2013 file photo, Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty speaks during a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska. Geraghty said Tuesday Feb. 18, 2014, that he will continue to defend the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, even as federal courts around the country strike down similar bans. Geraghty said he will not make his decisions based on federal district court decisions that still must be reviewed by appellate courts and perhaps the U.S. Supreme Court, which he expects will ultimately weigh in. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) -- A federal judge on Sunday struck down Alaska's first-in-the-nation ban on gay marriages, the latest court decision in a busy week for the issue.

It wasn't immediately clear when marriage licenses would be issued to same-sex couples in Alaska, however the state does have a three-day waiting period between applications and marriage ceremonies.

The late Sunday afternoon announcement caught many people off guard. No rallies were immediately planned.

"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.

Federal Judge Rules Alaska Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

Tow and Laborde, who married in Maryland last year, planned to meet with other plaintiffs, some by phone, later Sunday to celebrate.

Earlier in the week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states that were seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage.

The move on Oct. 6 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 to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998. The amendment defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The lawsuit filed in May 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.

U.S. District Judge Timothy 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.

"This Court finds that Alaska's same-sex marriage laws violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because no state interest provides `excessively persuasive justification' for the significant infringement of rights that they inflicted upon homosexual individuals," he wrote.

The state intends to appeal the ruling, Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell, said in an email to The Associated Press.

Messages sent to the state's attorney general's offices were not immediately returned. Parnell said in a statement Sunday that he has to defend and uphold the law and the Alaska Constitution.

"Although the district court today may have been bound by the recent 9th Circuit panel opinion, the status of that opinion and the law in general in this area is in flux," he said.

Joshua Decker, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, said Alaska has no legal chance of prevailing at either the 9th Circuit Court or with the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It's really unfortunate the governor wants to continue to swim against the tide of history and try to perpetuate discrimination against Alaskans," said Decker. "We're disappointed but that's not going to dampen our elation."

If the state does appeal to the 9th Circuit Court, chances of winning were slim since the federal appeals court already has ruled against Idaho and Nevada, which made similar arguments.

Alaska voters in 1998 approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. But 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.

The plaintiffs are Matthew Hamby and Christopher Shelden; Chris Laborde and Susan Tow; Sean Egan and David Robinson; Tracey Wiese and Katrina Cortez; and Courtney Lamb and Stephanie Pearson. Lamb and Pearson are unmarried.

Defendants included Gov. Sean Parnell and Attorney General Michael Geraghty, who earlier this year told The Associated Press he would continue to defend the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, even as federal courts around the country strike down similar bans.

Tow on Sunday said she was happy for the children of Alaska gay couples who will now see their parents recognized.

"We never thought we'd see this in our lives," she said.

See the state of marriage across the U.S.:

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Federal judge strikes down Alaska's marriage ban
Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer pose at their home in Hazel Park, Mich., Sunday, April 12, 2015. DeBoer and Rowse were not planning to challenge Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage when they went to court to win the right to jointly adopt each other’s children. A federal judge transformed their case into one about the right to marry, and the nurses have become celebrities in their Detroit suburb of Hazel Park. They are among the 19 men and 12 women whose same-sex marriage cases from those two states, plus Michigan and Tennessee, will be argued at the Supreme Court on April 28. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Jayne Rowse, left, and April DeBoer, right, pose with their adopted children Jacob, 5, from left, Nolan, 6, Ryanne, 6, and Rylee, 2, at their home in Hazel Park, Mich., Sunday, April 12, 2015. DeBoer and Rowse initially went to court to win the right to jointly adopt each other’s children, not to confront Michigan’s ban on gay marriage. But three years later, the Detroit-area nurses sometimes can’t buy groceries without supporters recognizing them and giving a hug. Each woman has adopted two kids, but they can’t jointly adopt them because joint adoption in Michigan is tied to marriage. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
In this Feb. 9, 2015 photo, Amanda Keller holds a flag as she joins other gay marriage supporters in Linn Park, at the Jefferson County courthouse in Birmingham, Ala. In the late 1980s, support for gay marriage was essentially unheard of in America. Just a quarter century later, it’s now favored by clear majority of Americans. That dramatic shift in opinion is among the fastest changes ever measured by the General Social Survey, a widely respected survey that has measured trends on a huge array of American attitudes for more than four decades. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)
Marj Plumb, right, and Tracy Weitz, one of seven same-sex couples who had sued to block Nebraska's ban on gay marriage, kiss outside Federal Court in Omaha, Neb., prior to a hearing, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. At the hearing, U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon was asked to require the state of Nebraska to recognize same-sex marriages immediately while a lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban proceeds, but the judge did not issue an immediate ruling. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(L-R) Jonathon Infante-May hugs his new husband Joseph Infante-May as Bruce-Robert Pocock and John Starkie, also newlyweds, embrace after getting married during a ceremony at the Broward County Courthouse on January 6, 2015 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Gay marriage is now legal statewide after the courts ruled that the ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court declined to intervene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Aymarah Robles (L) adn Deborah Shure show off the marriage license they just received at the Clerk of the Courts - Miami-Dade County Court on January 5, 2015 in Miami, Florida. Gay marriage is now legal statewide after the courts ruled that the ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court declined to intervene. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Catherina Pareto, left, and her partner Karla Arguello celebrate on the court house steps after Circuit Court Judge Sarah Zabel lifted a stay on her July ruling that Florida's same sex marriage ban violates equal protections under the U.S. Constitution, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015 in Miami. Judge Zabel provided a jump-start Monday to Florida's entry as the 36th state where gays and lesbians can legally marry, saying she saw no reason why same-sex couples couldn't immediately get their licenses in Miami-Dade County ahead of a midnight launch statewide. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
In a Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014 photo, supporters of Arkansas' law banning same sex marriage, top, hold a rally at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., as protestors carry flags and shout. An gay rights ordinance passed in August by the city council in Fayetteville, Ark., was repealed by voters on Dec. 10. Even as same-sex marriage edges closer to becoming legal nationwide, gay-rights advocates face other challenges in 2015 that may not bring quick victories. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
April Dawn Breeden, left, and her long-time partner Crystal Peairs kiss after they were married Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, at City Hall in St. Louis. St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison overturned Missouri's ban on gay marriage on Wednesday saying the law is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Katie Burris, left, and her partner Evangeline Cook embrace after receiving their marriage license at the Marion County Clerks office in Indianapolis, Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday turned away appeals from Indiana and four other states seeking to prohibit same-sex marriages, paving the way for an immediate expansion of gay and lesbian unions. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
In this Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 photo, Lennie Gerber, left, and her spouse, Pearl Berlin, laugh while at their home in High Point, N.C. The couple, who have been together 48 years and legally married in Maine in 2013, have a federal challenge pending against North Carolina's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
DENVER, CO - JULY 10: Anna Simon (L) puts the ring on the finger of Fran Simon after it was official, the first same sex married couple to get their license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. They are the first official married couple as they self-solemnized at the office. They are the first to go on record with the Denver County clerk's office. (Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Longtime same-sex couple Angie Holley, right, and Bylo Farmer smile and carry their new marriage license, as they depart the offices of the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, June 26, 2014. Together eight years already, Holley and Farmer decided to become officially married after Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall began issuing licenses a day earlier following a federal appeals court ruling that Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Longtime same-sex couple Jennifer Knight, left, and Felice Cohen kiss after receiving a marriage license, inside the offices of the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder, in Boulder, Colo., Thursday, June 26, 2014. Boulder County Clerk Hillary Hall began issuing licenses a day earlier following a federal appeals court ruling that Utah's same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional. More couples showed up in Boulder on Thursday to get licenses. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
FILE - In this June 25, 2014, file photo, plaintiffs Moudi Sbeity, right, and his partner Derek Kitchen, one of three couples who brought the lawsuit against Utah's gay marriage ban, walk with other plaintiffs after arriving for a news conference in Salt Lake City. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled on June 25 that Utah must allow gay couples to marry, finding the Constitution protects same-sex relationships. The court made the same ruling on Oklahoma's ban Friday. Utah and Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed the bans in 2004. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Bart Peterson, right, and Pete McNamara hug after they were married in Indianapolis, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. A federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Jake Miller, right, 30, and Craig Bowen, 35, are married by Marion County Clerk Beth White, left, in Indianapolis, Wednesday, June 25, 2014. A federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed.(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
FILE - In this June 25, 2014 file photo Bart Peterson, left, and Pete McNamara are married by Marion County Clerk Beth White in Indianapolis after a federal judge struck down a state ban on same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage bans in both Indiana and Wisconsin were overturned in June and then appealed by the attorneys generals of both states. A U.S. appeals court in Chicago ruled Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014 that gay marriage bans in Wisconsin and Indiana violate the U.S. Constitution — thereby bumping the number of states where gay marriage will be legal from 19 to 21. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
Monika Urana, second from left, and Julie Nischik, both of Madison, embrace and kiss after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. Their respective mothers, Angie Julian, left, and Stephanie Nischik, right, react to their marriage. The two have been together for 9 years. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Meghan Connor, left, and Nujemi Champion, both of Madison, show off their wedding documents after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Kerry Lehman, right, kisses Sara Hinkel, after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. The partners, both of Madison, have been together for 14 years. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele reacts with Jose Fernando Gutierrez, middle, and Matthew Schreck after their marriage ceremony at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Pat Cline, left, and Patty McKenzie wait to get married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Jill Winkler, left, and Pamela Dietzler exchange rings as they are married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Jill Winkler, left, and Pamela Dietzler kiss after they were married at the Milwaukee County Courthouse June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Cody Huston, left, and Tina Cady, both of Madison, embrace after getting married Saturday, June 7, 2014, in Madison, Wis. On Friday a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
Pat Cline, left, and Patty McKenzie look at each other during their wedding at the Milwaukee County Courthouse Friday June 6, 2014, in Milwaukee. Same-sex couples began getting married in Wisconsin on Friday shortly after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban and despite confusion over the effect of the ruling. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
Alexis Leonard, left, and Chelsea Beresford kiss before applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted the marriage license request and said he will send it to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Mitch Fortune, left, and Jake Crouch look over paperwork before applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted marriage license requests Tuesday, and said he will send to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Same-sex couple Carol McCrory, left, and Brenda Clark, center, speak to Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger, right, after applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013. Reisinger accepted the marriage license request and said he will send it to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Same-sex couple Lauren White, left, and Amy Cantrell, right, hold each other after applying for a marriage license at the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office in Asheville, N.C., Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, after Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted accepted a marriage license request from a same sex couple. He says he'll accept the license request and send it to the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Reisinger says he thinks the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Adam Jennings)
Long-time partners Ann Willoughby, left, and Barb Goldstein, from Durham, North Carolina, leave the Durham County Register of Deeds office in downtown Durham on Wednesday, May 9, 2012, comforting each other after being denied a marriage license. (Harry Lynch/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2013, file photo, Darren Black Bear, left, and Jason Pickel hold up their marriage license issued by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes near Jason's home in Oklahoma City, Thursday Oct. 24, 2013. Despite a ban on gay marriage in the Oklahoma Constitution, Black Bear and Pickel wed Thursday, Oct. 31, at Fort Reno after being granted a marriage license from the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes. (AP Photo/Nick Oxford, File)
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