The United States’ northernmost state has come under fire after leaked documents show Alaskan state officials purposely denied same-sex married couples legal benefits for years, even after same-sex marriage became legal nationwide.
A new report by the Associated Press reveals that the aforementioned leaked documents reveal a pattern of discrimination against same-sex couples in regards to a state payout oil wealth checks. In Alaska, residents get the check each year to address personal costs ranging from utility fees to new merchandise. The money itself comes from a fund paid out by petroleum companies in exchange for drilling rights. Married couples with spouses on military duty or business out of state are also entitled to receive a check.
The Northwest Arkansas Democrat further reports that over 800 pages of emails show that the state knowingly disregarded a 2014 state Supreme Court decision in Hamby v. Parnell which deemed the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Same-sex couples in Alaska won the right to marry within the state as a result of the decision, though that didn’t stop Alaskan state officials from continuing to deny same-sex couples their legally prescribed checks. The practice continued even after the US Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide in 2015.
The emails come as a result filed by a lawsuit filed by Denali Smith, a spouse who sued over the denied benefits. The state of Alaska settled with Smith, and admitted to denying gay couples benefits as late as 2019.
“It seems like none of them all the way up to the director understood that this was a permanent injunction, meaning if you enforce the law after this date, you’re in violation of a court order and you’re violating people’s rights,” said Anchorage attorney Caitlin Shortell, the lawyer who represented Smith in the lawsuit. Shortell was also one of the lawyers who successfully sued to overturn the state’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014.
As a result of the settlement, Alaska will no longer deny same-sex couples their oil funds. The state Department of Law, however, also said that the same-sex marriage ban–though illegal and unenforceable–will continue to remain on the books until state lawmakers repeal it, thus paving the way for more same-sex couples to be denied benefits, and more lawsuits.