Alaska's same-sex couples encouraged by national trend

Anchorage residents Tracey Wiese and Katrina Cortez had planned to vacation in Hawaii after their wedding earlier this year — they just wish they could have gotten married in their home state first.


Now that Wiese and Cortez and four other Alaskan couples have filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same sex marriage, it could just be a matter of time until other same-sex couples are able to tie the knot in the 49th state.

“It’s beyond frustrating — it’s archaic, hurtful and discriminatory,” Wiese said of Alaska’s ban. “To be married in one state, and be considered strangers in another ... it’s super disappointing.”

Thanks to a 2005 ruling, Alaskan same-sex couples are afforded many of the same civil benefits as married heterosexual couples, but Wiese and others have said that’s not enough because inequality still abounds.

“It comes down to being non-discriminatory,” Wiese said. “There’s no logical, ethical or any other reason why two people in love shouldn’t have the freedom to get married.”

More and more, federal judges across the nation are agreeing.

Since December, federal judges in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, Arkansas and Idaho have ruled in favor of same-sex couples in cases similar to the one filed n Alaska on Monday. The Arkansas ruling came Friday, and the Idaho decision was released Tuesday afternoon.

“There’s been so much progress in the last year,” Wiese said. “It’s given us a lot of hope to move forward.”

Four of the five couples challenging the state’s ban are married. The lawsuit came together after one of the attorneys, Caitlin Shortell, wrote a post on Facebook looking for Alaskans who would want to join the suit, Wiese said.

Over the past year or so, the group met and talked regularly to determine the best course of action. Now that the case is publicly known, Wiese said she’s received nothing but support.

“We don’t feel the government should have a say in removing peoples’ civil rights and not granting them to everybody,” Wiese said. “In fact, it’s their responsibility to ensure everyone has access to their rights.”

Maureen Longworth, a Juneau resident since 1993, said she grew up in a family where marriage was valued and always considered to be a natural step in life. So when she met her partner, Lin Davis, she wasn’t going to let the law define their relationship.

She recalled thinking, “I’m not going to miss out on marriage just because my prince charming turned out to be Lin.”

The couple, who would later go on and win benefits for same-sex couples in Alaska through the 2005 ruling, were married at a river resort in California in 1990. It was during the ceremony that Longworth’s father offered a wish for the newly wed couple that has remained with her all these years.

“Dad said, ‘May all barriers against you and people like you fall away, and may the love you have for one another be reflected back to you all the days of your lives,’” Longworth remembered. “I wish he was here today to see that the barriers are falling away, one-by-one.”

As Longworth and Davis enter their later years, they have a wish that probably isn’t on the minds of younger couples.

“It’s been a long time,” Longworth said. “I met Lin in 1987 — Look at what year it is now. It’s about time we are recognized.

“We really don’t want to go to our graves without having equal rights,” she added.

Earlier this year, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, introduced legislation that would have allowed Alaskan voters to decide if the state should allow same-sex couples to marry or not, but that proposal was not considered in either the House or Senate, which are both Republican-controlled.

At the time, he told the Empire that the ban would be struck down eventually — the question was if the people or courts would do it.

“We’re not asking people to agree, and we’re not asking people to be gay,” Wiese said. “We’re just asking people to agree it’s our civil right.”

Matt Hamby and Chris Shelden, the lead plaintiffs in Alaska’s same-sex marriage case, said they are encouraged by what they’re seeing in courts across the country.

Shelden, 44, said Alaska was heralded for the progressive nature of its constitution at statehood. The 1998 amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman “set us way back,” he said.

“I think Alaskans are ready for this,” Shelden said.

Davis said she is allowing herself to be excited and to believe the way will be cleared for same-sex marriage to be made legal nationwide. Davis said it has been a long haul but she sees the discrimination “falling apart.”

“People have come up to us, especially in the last year, and said, ‘I didn’t really get it. I didn’t understand what you guys were fighting for, and now I get it and I’m so happy for you.’ It’s been really magnificent,” she said, adding later: “You kind of grow up feeling like you’re just not part of the society, that you’re outlaws and things don’t apply to you at all, but now it’s very magnificent.”

Alaska’s attorney general, Michael Geraghty, who is one of the named defendants in the Alaska lawsuit, said in February that he would fight to uphold the state’s constitution. The Department of Law did not have immediate comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.

Jim Minnery, with the conservative Alaska Family Action, sent an email missive Tuesday, saying his group prays that Geraghty’s team “will have the wisdom and fortitude to put forth the absolute best legal strategy to protect what the people of Alaska overwhelmingly voted on in 1998.”

The AP contributed to this report.

• Contact reporter Matt Woolbright at 523-2243 or at Follow him on Twitter at

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