The Alaska government denied a
share of oil funds revenue to a
During the early 21st century, there was an active law in Alaska that restricted marriage to one man and one woman.
During late 2014, a federal judge ruled that this ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. 1
During 2015-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be eligible marry almost everywhere in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, in all 50 states and five of the six territories. The High court ruling was not effective in one territory: American Samoa. This was because people in that territory are normally considered American residents, not American citizens. Thus, rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court are not necessarily effective there,
On 2019-NOV-21, Bill Wielechowski (D), the Alaska Senator for Anchorage, said that the state's ban on same-sex marriage is no longer valid. He said:
"It’s not the law anymore in Alaska, 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.”
Alaska has a "Permanent Fund Dividend program," which gives yearly monetary grants to Alaska citizens from the state's oil revenue.
Denali Nicole Smith was refused a check and was told that she would have been eligible to receive money if her military spouse was male. Her spouse is female. They are in a same-sex marriage.
She arranged to have a lawsuit launched that asked the program to:
- recognize her marriage,
- pay her the amount that they would have paid her if she was married to an opposite-sex spouse,
- prepare a list of other Alaskan individuals who had been similarly denied checks because of their marital status, and
- pay appropriate dividends to the listed individuals.
The lawsuit names several state officials as defendants, including Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) and Attorney General Kevin Clarkson (R).
The state's Department of Law said that Smith and her attorney were notified earlier in November that she was eligible to be paid a Permanent Fund Dividend. The Department also said that they were unaware of anyone else who was denied a check who was "similarly situated" to Smith, Their release stated:
"The Division will continue to investigate to verify that this is indeed the case and take corrective action if necessary."
The Department also noted that one of their booklets still contained a statement that same-sex marriages were not recognized. They said that the booklet is being updated "... to ensure this inadvertent mistake does not happen again."
Attorney General Clarkson tweeted a statement saying that Smith's lawsuit is "pointless." Hr said that her 2019 payment of US$ 1,606 is listed as "Eligible - Not Paid" because she had not provided a correct address.
The Law Department said that the dividend should be sent to all eligible Alaskans, regardless of their marital status. Governor Dunleavy said:
"We are examining our regulations and processes to ensure those who are qualified get their” dividend." 2
2019-NOV-22: The government recants, sort of:
On Attorney General Kevin Clarkson admitted that a denial letter should never have been sent to Ms. Smith. He also said that her complaint was a "false lawsuit." 2
I don't think that this is a 'false lawsuit." I think that it was a needless lawsuit. A junior civil servant in the Permanent Fund Dividend program probably has an extreme dislike of gays and lesbians and unilaterally decided to violate the government's policies. They discriminated against Ms. Smith by cutting off her funds. She might have been able to clear up the conflict by lodging a complaint directly with the program. But, instead, she decided to sue the Government. The conflict escalated and became public.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Becky Bohrer, "Military same-sex spouse denied Alaska oil check sues," Military Times, 2019-NOV-22, at: https://www.militarytimes.com
- Becky Bohrer, "Alaska AG: Same-sex military spouse eligible for oil check," Military Times, 2019-NOV-24, at: https://www.militarytimes.com
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Copyright © 2019 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Original posting: 2019-NOV-25