Alaska law permits older married couples to take a property tax deduction that is as much as twice as generous to married couples as it is to unmarried couples who own their home together. Because gay couples are unable to marry in Alaska, this means that people in committed gay relationships are excluded from the favorable tax treatment enjoyed by straight married couples.
Yesterday, however, a trial judge in Anchorage, Alaska struck down this law for violating the Alaska Constitution’s guarantee of that “all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law”:
The court finds that the legislation fails to pass even the minimal scrutiny that economic burdens trigger. [...] If the policy underlying the Tax Exemption’s additional benefit to married couples is the recognition that people in long term, committed relationships build their lives together, then there is no reason to distinguish between married couples and couples who would make the marital commitment but for their sexual orientation.
If this decision is upheld on appeal — and there is good reason to believe that it will be — it could have sweeping implications for gay rights in Alaska. Because the court concluded that one anti-gay law does not survive the lowest level of constitutional scrutiny under the state’s constitution, the court’s rationale provides a powerful precedent suggesting that any law that discriminates against gay couples cannot survive scrutiny.
That is, of course, except for one. Alaska’s constitution expressly forbids marriage equality — although it does not forbid gay couples from enjoying the package of legal rights normally associated with marriage. Nevertheless, there is nothing in Alaska law that prevents the state courts from recognizing the right of gay couples to join together in civil unions.