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ANCHORAGE, Alaska – The Alaska Supreme Court ruled today that the state unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples by denying them equal access to a property tax exemption for senior citizens and disabled veterans.
The rules were challenged by the ACLU of Alaska, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Davis Wright Tremaine LLP on behalf of three couples who were denied full access to a $150,000 property tax exemption that Alaska makes available to opposite-sex married couples. Because same-sex couples cannot legally marry in Alaska, the state treated them as roommates rather than as families and let them get the exemption for only half of the value of their homes. Roger Leishman, partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, successfully argued the case at trial and on appeal before the Alaska Supreme Court.
"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," said Joshua Decker, executive director of the ACLU of Alaska. "Our senior citizens and veterans should not have to pay more taxes just because they happen to be gay or lesbian."
The lead plaintiffs, Julie Schmidt, 71, and Gayle Schuh, 66, have been partners for 36 years, and moved to Alaska from Illinois after retiring from careers in education.
"Gayle and I built a home and a life here because we loved what Alaska had to offer," said Schmidt. "It hurt that the state that we loved so much treated us like strangers. It is gratifying to have our relationship recognized."
"Across the country we are seeing that courts and the American people embrace the idea that same-sex couples deserve the same dignity and fair treatment as anyone else," said Leslie Cooper, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "It’s not fair to tax someone more heavily because of who they love."