Judge rules for three gay couples in Alaska property tax case
“Alaska’s gay and lesbian couples who are senior citizens or disabled veterans pay higher property taxes than similar heterosexual couples,” E. Ross wrote last August, “because we are treated like roommates or business partners instead of couples and families.” Now the lawsuit described in that story — Bent Alaska’s first on the lawsuit by three same-sex couples against Alaska’s biased property tax — has resulted in a victory in Anchorage Superior Court, the ACLU of Alaska announced today.
The decision in Schmidt v. Alaska (3AN-10-09519CI) was promulgated by Judge Frank A. Pfiffner on Friday, September 16. Judge Pfiffner found that the State of Alaska’s tax assessment rules violate the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection clause.
See the press release from the ACLU of Alaska, below, or read the complete decision.
Press release from ACLU of Alaska
Alaska Court Rules In Favor of Lesbian and Gay Families
Excluding Same-Sex Couples from Tax Exemption Benefit Violates Alaska Constitution
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 19, 2011
CONTACT: Jeffrey Mittman, ACLU of Alaska, (907) 263-2002 or (907) 230-0665
ANCHORAGE, AK — The Alaska Superior Court today ruled that the state’s tax-assessment rules, which discriminate against same-sex couples by denying them equal access to a property tax exemption for senior citizens and disabled veterans, are unconstitutional. The rules were challenged by the ACLU of Alaska and national American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three Alaska couples who were denied full access to a $150,000 property tax exemption. The families are in committed relationships with a same-sex domestic partner, not an opposite-sex spouse, and are thus treated as “roommates” rather than as families. Same-sex couples are excluded from having marriages recognized in Alaska.
“Gayle and I moved, built a home and a life here because we love what Alaska has to offer,” said Julie Schmidt, who has been with her partner Gayle Schuh for 34 years. “It hurt that the state that we value so much treated us like strangers. It is gratifying to finally have our relationship recognized.”
“The Court today again affirmed that it is unfair to treat same-sex couples – who are just as committed to each other as any other family – as second-class citizens,” said Roger Leishman, of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who presented oral argument on behalf of the couples. “The Alaska Constitution establishes that no senior citizen or disabled veteran should be unfairly taxed just because they happen to be lesbian or gay.”
Judge Frank A. Pfiffner, of the Superior Court in Anchorage, ruled in favor of Schmidt and Schuh; Julie Vollick and Susan Bernard; and Fred Traber and Larry Snider.
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the matter of Schmidt v. Alaska are Leishman, Dave Oesting, Ryan Derry, Rebecca Francis and Zana Bugaighis of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; Tom Stenson of the ACLU of Alaska; and Leslie Cooper of the national ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project.
A copy of the Decision is available at the ACLU of Alaska and ACLU websites.
“Judge Rules Property Tax Break Denial to Same-Sex Couples Unconstitutional” by Corey Allen-Young (KTVA Channel 11 News, Sep 19, 2011) — KTVA interviewed Julie Schmidt and Gayle Schuh about the decision. Watch:Tags: ACLU of Alaska, Schmidt v. Alaska, video