Showing posts with label Alaska. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alaska. Show all posts

November 24, 2019

Alaska Refuses To Marry A Gay Couple 4 Yrs After It Was Legal in The U.S.


More than four years after the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, Alaska appears to be engaged in flagrant discrimination against same-sex couples.

On Wednesday, Denali Nicole Smith, a resident of Alaska, filed a lawsuit against the state for denying her benefits because she is married to a woman. Smith’s wife, Miranda Murphy, is an Alaska resident and member of the Armed Forces who are currently stationed in Florida. Under Alaska law, military spouses are eligible for the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Permanent Fund Dividend, when their families are stationed out of state.

But when Smith applied for the fund in 2019, her application was denied. The state cited Alaska laws that bar the government from recognizing any same-sex marriage or providing any benefits to same-sex couples. A representative from the Permanent Fund Dividend also told Smith that she would’ve received her check “if she were married to a man.”

There’s a problem with this explanation: A federal court permanently blocked Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban in 2014, ruling it unconstitutional. A year later, in Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed that same-sex couples in every state have a fundamental right to marry. And in 2017’s Pavan v. Smith, the court clarified that states must provide same-sex couples with “the constellation of benefits … linked to marriage,” not just a mere marriage license. Alaska is thus defying the law by refusing to recognize Smith and Murphy’s marriage.

Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Law, has asserted in response to Smith’s suit that the state does not discriminate against same-sex couples in the distribution of oil fund money. She told me on Friday that her office is working “as quickly as possible” to determine “what happened in this case.” But Caitlin Shortell, one of Smith’s lawyers, told me on Friday that Mills’ claim “is not accurate in light of our information.” Shortell said that multiple Alaskans accompanying same-sex spouses have been denied PFD funds despite the court order freezing the state’s marriage ban. She’s seeking discovery to learn how many other people were unlawfully refused payments by the state. 

Smith’s lawsuit serves as a reminder that the fight for marriage equality in the U.S. is far from over. There are myriad ways that states can discriminate against same-sex couples, plucking stars from the “constellation of benefits” attached to marriage and hoping the courts won’t care. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement left Obergefell in a precarious position; the ruling’s fate is now in the hands of a Supreme Court majority that may not support constitutional protections for LGBTQ people.

Alaska does not seem eager to fight Smith’s suit, so this dispute may be resolved quickly (although no solution can undo the stigma inflicted by the state’s initial discrimination). Still, at some point, a case like Smith’s could reach SCOTUS, giving the conservative justices an opportunity to roll back or even overturn Obergefell. Many Americans have come to see marriage equality as a done deal. But as Alaska rather cruelly reminded Smith, gay couples’ right to equal marriage can never be taken for granted.

February 28, 2019

The Library in Anchorage was Holding a Pride-Fest When a Pastor Decided to Interrupt

  Anchorage Activists Form 'Queen's Guard' To Protect LGBT Events

This library in Alaska was holding a Pridefest

This pastor crashed a library's drag queen story time - then got booed out
A drag queen doing story time at the library | Photo: Facebook/NowThis Politics


Brendan Joel Kelley

The man dressed as the Grim Reaper and holding a sign reading “THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH” had been to Drag Storytime (formerly Drag Queen Storytime) before. On a Saturday earlier this month, he was vocally disparaging LGBT people outside the Z.J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska.

David Grisham, an evangelical street preacher and leader of the hate group Last Frontier Evangelism-Repent Alaska known for disparaging Jews, Muslims and Catholics crashed the second installment of Drag Storytime last June, during Anchorage’s PrideFest. Grisham was booed then, and swiftly escorted out.

At the fourth Drag Storytime event – which features performers in drag reading stories about tolerance, diversity and families to children – on Saturday, Feb. 9, Grisham stood outside the library wearing his bleak costume alongside a couple of fellow protesters, shouting: “You’re sick, you’re perverted, you need to get right with God today… You hate children. Stop hating children. Stop brainwashing them.”

But this time Grisham faced about 30 counterprotesters lined up on either side of the library’s entrance who responded with coordinated chants like “2-4-6-8/We are tired of the hate/2-4-6-8/Love is here, it’s just fate,” and “Don’t be a drag/Just be a queen.”

The scene marked the debut of the Queen’s Guard of Alaska, whose stated mission is “to counteract negative and hostile protests with positive, peaceful, non-engaging rebuttals.”

The Queen’s Guard is a grassroots collective of activists who plan “to be at events where we know or suspect anti-LGBT organizations or people are planning to be at,” said founder Vincent Feuilles, the 46-year-old transgender man who organized the group. “Our purpose is to respond to their hate with accuracy, and love and support for LGBT people going to or performing at the event at that time.”

The idea Feuilles and his fellow activists are pursuing is emerging in other locales as well, particularly as Drag Queen Storytime events, endorsed by the American Library Association, increase in popularity. A similar scene played out in a Detroit suburb in January, and in Anchorage, the Queen’s Guard plans on being at all future Drag Storytime events as well as other LGBT happenings around the state.

Drag Queen Storytimes around the country have also drawn protests from anti-LGBT hate groups. At the Drag Queen Storytime in Huntington Woods, a suburb of Detroit, the Michigan chapter of anti-LGBT hate group MassResistance joined with other anti-LGBT activists, including a Tennessee-based anti-LGBT hate group called Warriors for Christ (formerly of West Virginia), which travels to protest drag queen events at libraries, and the extreme-right Catholic online media outlet Church Militant, an anti-LGBT hate group. MassResistance has also protested similar events at libraries in Windsor, Colorado, and Riverside, California.

Now a nationwide phenomenon, Drag Queen Story Hour was established in San Francisco in 2015. The national Drag Queen Story Hour organization lists two dozen cities with events, but independent permutations like the one in Anchorage are widespread in locales large and small.

The first Drag Storytime in Anchorage “went swimmingly,” organizer Brooks Banker said, but the second, held in June during the annual PrideFest celebration, attracted Grisham, who interrupted the performance before being escorted out.

But it was after the third event, which took place in October, that anti-LGBT forces really took note. On Oct. 26, Arthur Schaper, organization director of hate group MassResistance, sent an email and flyer to library director Mary Jo Torgeson and all of the members of the Anchorage Assembly, decrying the “subversive introduction of an agenda which promotes homosexuality, transgenderism, transvestism, and other paraphilias.”

MassResistance is known for fighting bans against the discredited practice of so-called conversion therapy and rallying against “the homosexual agenda” in public schools. MassResistance paints transgender people as predators, and links homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia.

A few days later, Jim Minnery, the head of the Alaska Family Council and its lobbying group Alaska Family Action, which leads anti-LGBT efforts in the state, contacted Torgeson and asked about the event “before I send an alert out to our constituents.” She told Minnery the events would continue, replying in part: “The story time is not meant to endorse a lifestyle, it is about accepting differences in one another. … As a public entity, what we strive for is equal access, tolerance and respect for everyone.”

On Nov. 2, Minnery posted an alert on Alaska Family Action’s Facebook page, stating: “There is a reason to believe that with organized opposition, some of these attacks on kids, families and faith can be stopped. Libraries in some communities have been reticent to host these events – forcing organizers to look for other sites.”

“I follow [Minnery’s] page on Facebook and he was putting out the call for all the good people to come and cast aside this sin,” said Queen’s Guard founder Feuilles. “I was looking at all the misinformation and everything that was incorrect about it, how he was riling people up, and I thought, it’s almost like we need a Queen’s Guard to go guard the drag queens. That was the start.”

In January 2019, a transgender woman in Anchorage, Andrea “Drea” Redeker, committed suicide, further spurring Feuilles to action. “It was very much a result of all of the aggression she faced everyday,” he said. “I thought if maybe there was more support at things like Drag Storytime, where people saw not just the bad side, which is what Dave Grisham and his group do, and they got there and there was a group of people who were there drowning out that message of hate with love and acceptance, maybe it would stop somebody else.”

The idea of countering anti-LGBT protesters goes as far back as the 1998 murder in Laramie, Wyoming, of Matthew Shepard, who was killed for being gay. After Westboro Baptist Church members had picketed Shepard’s memorial service, LGBT activists, fearing Westboro would also appear at the trial of his killers, showed up wearing angel wings seven feet tall and 10 feet across and surrounded the protesters, effectively hiding them. The operation was called Angel Action.

“The thing I remember most about [Angel Action] is they were there kind of just to quiet and hide [the anti-LGBT protesters],” said Feuilles. “We do not want to hide the opposition. I want people to see and hear what they are saying too, because there are some people who don’t realize that there are groups like this out there.”

Feuilles rallied LGBT activists and the Queen’s Guard of Alaska made its debut at Drag Storytime on Saturday, Feb. 9. They numbered about 30, compared to Grisham’s handful of protesters across the plaza. As Grisham arrived in his Grim Reaper outfit, the Queen’s Guard amassed on each side of the library’s entrance, forcing Grisham to stand away from the doors. “He had to stand across from us – you can’t block the doors,” explained Feuilles.

Anchorage Assemblyman Christopher Constant was in attendance and estimated the crowd for the early performance, aimed at younger children, at nearly 300, with about 150 at the later performance for older children. “What I hear from library staff is that it’s the single most popular event in the calendar year for the library,” he said.

Besides countering Grisham’s hate speech with chants, the Queen’s Guard escorted the performers into the auditorium to cheers from the audience. “I thought it was remarkable,” said Banker, the Drag Storytime organizer. “It was really inspiring and actually very necessary for the emotional, mental and even physical safety of our volunteer drag storytellers, as well as all attendees. You can attend Drag Storytime and show support that way, but to have a whole other side of support is really important too. We’re covered, we feel protected.”

The Queen’s Guard of Alaska also plans to be at the next Drag Storytime, yet to be scheduled, and will be out in force supporting attendees of the Trans Alaska Summit, to be held March 8 – 10.

Photo credit Lillian Lennon

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February 25, 2015

In Alaska(red state) Legalization of marijuana took Place Today

In First ‘Red’ State to Legalize Marijuana, Possession and Cultivation Become Legal;  Commercial Retail Sales to Begin in 2016
Bipartisan Consensus Accelerates Momentum to Legalize Marijuana and End Drug War
Today marks a major step forward in the implementation of Alaska’s marijuana legalization law, as personal cultivation, possession, and consumption become legal. Last November, Alaskans voted 53-47% in favor of marijuana legalization, making it the first “red” state to pass such a law.
“First Colorado and Washington, now Alaska and Oregon – and all with levels of support higher than the winning candidates for governor and U.S. Senate achieved in those states,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.  “Legalizing marijuana just makes sense now to voters across the political spectrum and – as we’ll likely see in 2016 – across the country.”
Starting tomorrow, it will be legal for someone 21 years of age or over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, grow up to six marijuana plants in their homes (provided that only three of them are mature at any time), and to share up to 1 ounce of marijuana with someone 21 or over and give them up to six immature marijuana plants. Private consumption will be completely legal for those 21 and over, though public consumption remains illegal.
Commercial marijuana businesses that grow, process, bake, or sell marijuana products won’t be able to legally operate until spring or summer of 2016. In January, the Alaska legislature began working to bring existing criminal statutes into line with the voter initiative. Tuesday marks the beginning of a nine-month rulemaking process during which the regulations for marijuana businesses will be developed and refined. Under the provisions of the voter initiative, the state is expected to begin accepting applications for operating permits by February 2016, a full year from now. This timeline was clearly defined in the voter initiative and, so far, the process is on schedule.
Alaska’s new law is expected to increase law enforcement resources available to focus on dangerous and violent crime.  Once retail sales begin next year, the law is also expected to bolster the state’s economy by creating jobs and generating new revenue, as marijuana sales will be conducted by legitimate, tax-paying businesses that test their products and require proof of age.
November’s election solidified drug policy reform’s place as a mainstream political issue, as voters across the country accelerated the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider drug war. Marijuana legalization measures passed in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., while groundbreaking criminal justice reforms passed in California and New Jersey.  These successes are boosting efforts already underway in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, Maine, Nevada, Arizona and elsewhere to end marijuana prohibition.
Contact:  Tony Newman: 646-335-5384 or Tamar Todd:  510-593-2395

April 26, 2014

Alaska High Court Rules State Tax Law is Anti-Gay

Gayle Schuh, Julie Schmidt, gay news, Washington Blade
Gayle Schuh and Julie Schmidt won their case before the Alaska Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy ACLU)
The Alaska Supreme Court ruled on Friday the state acted unconstitutionally by refusing to grant same-sex couples a special property tax exemption afforded to senior citizens and disabled veterans who live with their spouse in their home.

In the 45-page decision, the court determined that the State of Alaska and the Municipality of Anchorage’s decision to withhold the $150,000 tax exemption from same-sex couples violates equal protection rights under the Alaska State Constitution.

“Same-sex couples, who may not marry or have their marriages recognized in Alaska, cannot benefit or become eligible to benefit from the exemption program to the same extent as heterosexual couples, who are married or may marry,” the ruling states. “The exemption program therefore potentially treats same-sex couples less favorably than it treats opposite-sex couples even though the two classes are similarly situated.”
Because same-sex couples cannot legally marry in Alaska, the state prior to the ruling only allowed them an exemption for half the value of their homes.

The case, Schmidt and Schuh v. Alaska, was filed by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska on behalf of six same-sex couples. According to the ACLU, the decision applies to all same-sex couples in the state.
One couple — Julie Vollick and Susan Bernard — jointly purchased their Eagle River home in 2004. Vollick, who retired after 20 years in the United States Air Force and has service-related disabilities, was seeking the exemption based on his veteran status.
The other couples — Julie Schmidt and Gayle Schuh, who have been together 33 years, and Fred Traber and Larry Snider, who have been together 28 years — were seeking to qualify for the benefit as senior citizens.

Schmidt, who moved with Schuh to Alaska from Illinois after they both retired from careers in education, said in a statement the court ruling validates their relationship. “Gayle and I built a home and a life here because we loved what Alaska had to offer,” Schmidt said. “It hurt that the state that we loved so much treated us like strangers. It is gratifying to have our relationship recognized.” In ruling in favor of the couples, the court affirms a decision by a lower court in Alaska granting summary judgment to all three same-sex couples who filed the lawsuit. But the Supreme Court excludes from the decision one same-sex couple, Traber and Snider. 

Traber was the sole owner of the home, but 62 so not yet a senior citizen, and Snider was found not to have an ownership interest in the home. Although attorneys for the couples argued they should be able to receive the exemption because laws based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny, the court didn’t get that far in its ruling because justices were able to determine the state’s practices were unfair based on minimum scrutiny. “Because the tax exemption program affects the couples’ economic interests, it is subject to at least minimum scrutiny,” the ruling states. “Because minimum scrutiny resolves this case, we do not need to consider the couples’ contention that we should apply heightened scrutiny.” Although there was no dissent in the ruling, Justice Daniel Winfree wrote a concurring decision in favor of the same-sex couples, saying he would have decided the case on non-constitutional grounds. Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska, said the ruling affirms no one is second-class under the law — whether they be gay or straight. “Families in Alaska deserve better than a second-class system of laws for same-sex couples who are just as committed to each other as heterosexual couples,” Decker said. “Our senior citizens and veterans should not have to pay more taxes just because they happen to be gay or lesbian.” Gay couples in Alaska don’t have access to marriage in the state because Alaska voters made a ban on same-sex marriage part of its state constitution in 1998. The state is one of four in the country that doesn’t have marriage equality or pending litigation seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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