Gay Marriage Cleared to Begin in Alaska, Arizona

Arizona and Alaska joined the states allowing gay marriage as two court orders extended a line of legal victories for advocates. Same-sex couples can now wed in 31 states and the District of Columbia.

In Phoenix, a federal judge yesterday declared Arizona’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, and officials said they will begin issuing licenses immediately. Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, invited same-sex couples to apply for licenses.

“Your marriage license awaits and we are ready to serve you!” court Clerk Michael Jeanes said in a posting on Twitter.

Hours later, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch bid by Alaska officials to stop weddings from starting there. As has become its standard practice with gay marriage, the high court made no comment, issuing a one-sentence order.

Also yesterday, a federal judge in Wyoming ordered that state to allow same-sex marriage, though he put the preliminary ruling on hold to give the state a chance to appeal. U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl cited appeals court decisions in the circuit including Wyoming that said states couldn’t ban gay marriage.

Alaska was among a handful of states that have resisted letting gay couples wed even in the face of court rulings declaring same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. A federal trial judge legalized gay marriage in Alaska this week, and the state sought to halt that ruling while it appealed.

The Supreme Court’s rejection follows a similar rebuff of Idaho officials last week.

Idaho Case

The nation’s highest court cleared the way for same-sex marriage in much of the U.S. earlier this month when the justices rejected appeals from five states. The justices passed up the chance to issue a nationwide ruling on whether the Constitution lets states ban gay marriage.

In Arizona’s case, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick in Phoenix said he was bound by a recent federal appeals court decision striking down almost identical bans in Nevada and Idaho.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said the chances of winning reversal were “zero.” Filing an appeal to the same appellate court “would be an exercise in futility” that “would serve only the purpose of wasting taxpayers’ money,” he said.

About a dozen couples were lined up when the Maricopa County clerk began issuing licenses at around 10:30 a.m. yesterday, and others came in at a “steady” pace, said Aaron Nash, a spokesman for the office.

Dozen Couples

In a statement from her office, Republican Governor Jan Brewer called the ruling an affront to Arizonans who voted in 2008 to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

In Alaska, government offices were closed in observance of Alaska Day.

Marc Solomon, national campaign director for the advocacy group Freedom to Marry, said the Arizona judge’s ruling “affirms what nearly every court in the past year has held,” that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

“It is time for the courts to finish the job and end marriage discrimination throughout the land,” Solomon said in a statement.

In addition to Wyoming, three other states -- Kansas, Montana and South Carolina -- are on the cusp of gay marriage because they are bound by federal appeals court decisions in their parts of the country.

The Arizona case is Connolly v. Jeanes, 14-cv-00024, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix). The Alaska case at the Supreme Court is Parnell v. Hamby, 14A413. The Wyoming case is Guzzo v. Mead, 14-cv-200, U.S. District Court, District of Wyoming.

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