AP NEWS

Military same-sex spouse denied Alaska oil check sues

November 22, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska woman alleges the state is wrongly enforcing laws barring recognition of same-sex marriages, five years after a federal judge found such a ban to be unconstitutional.

In a lawsuit, attorneys for Denali Nicole Smith say Smith was denied eligibility for the check paid to residents from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund that she would have been eligible for had her military spouse been a man.

Department of Law spokeswoman Cori Mills, in an email, said the department would need to look into the allegations and determine what happened. But she said the division that determines eligibility for payment of Alaska Permanent Fund Dividends currently recognizes same-sex spouses.

The lawsuit, first reported by Anchorage television station KTVA, seeks payment of the check. It also seeks a list of individuals since 2014 denied checks based on laws or a provision in the state constitution barring same-sex marriage, and payments of dividends to any such individuals.

In late 2014, a federal judge deemed Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court gave same-sex couples nationally the right to marry.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said Thursday that even if laws remain on the books barring same-sex marriage, those were nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It’s not the law anymore in Alaska,” he said of a ban on same-sex marriage. “Even though it’s still on the books, if you were to open up a constitution, you’ll see it there, but it’s not effective. It’s nullified.”

One of Smith’s lawyers, Heather Gardner, said the plaintiffs do not believe this is a “one-time thing for the Permanent Fund Dividend program.”

She said she and attorney Caitlin Shortell, who were among the attorneys who successfully sued to overturn Alaska’s ban on gay marriage, “have reason to believe it’s not a rogue clerk” at the Permanent Fund Dividend Division.

The lawsuit says division representatives told Smith that if she were married to a man, she would not be denied a check.

Jahna Lindemuth, an attorney general under former Gov. Bill Walker, said she was unaware of any such case during her tenure, which began in the summer of 2016 and ended last year.

According to the lawsuit, Smith was born and raised in Anchorage and went to college in California in 2014, before returning to Anchorage in 2016.

In 2018, she married Miranda Murphy, an Alaska resident stationed with the military in Florida, according to the lawsuit. After they married, Smith moved to Florida with her wife.

The lawsuit names as defendants several state officials, including Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson.

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Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska.