Alaska’s Superior Court has ruled that the state’s tax-assessment rules unconstitutionally exclude same-sex couples in domestic partnerships from a property tax exemption available for married senior citizens and disabled veterans.
A lawsuit was brought by the ACLU of Alaska and the national ACLU on behalf of three Alaska couples who were denied the state’s full $150,000 tax exemption because the state argues that same-sex couples in domestic partnerships are, per a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998, excluded from the rights of marriage. In effect, they are classed simply as roommates for the purposes of this tax exemption and are not treated as families.
Judge Frank A. Pfiffner, of the Superior Court in Anchorage, ruled Friday in favor of the plaintiffs Julie Schmidt and Gayle Schuh; Julie Vollick and Susan Bernard; and Fred Traber and Larry Snider.
Pfiffner noted that Schmidt, 67, and Schuh, 62, have co-owned a home in Eagle River since 2006 and that Schmidt qualifies for the tax exemption but cannot utilize the full exemption because, under Alaska’s law, she is deemed to only be sharing a house because the state, for tax purposes, does not recognize her domestic partnership.
Fred Traber, 62, and Laurence Snider, 69, a same-sex couple who share a condominium in Anchorage, found themselves in a similar situation when Snider qualified for the tax exemption but was unable to claim it because the home is in Traber’s name.
Similarly Julie Vollick, who is a permanently disabled military veteran, and her former domestic partner Susan Bernard found themselves excluded from the exemption for no other reason than they were not allowed to marry. They co-owned a home together between 2004 – 2010. Sadly, their relationship has now ended. Regardless, the judge found that had they been given the rights afforded to married couples, Vollick would have had access to a $528 greater tax benefit because of the exemption, an undeniably significant sum.
As such Judge Pfiffner ruled that the state, in defending its actions by citing the marriage amendment, failed to distinguish the institution of marriage itself, which the amendment does cover, and the rights of marriage, which the amendment does not preclude same-sex couples from — at least in this regard.
Pfiffner also said the state had failed to explain how this case is different from a previous case ruled on by the Alaska Superior Court in 2005 that found state and municipal employees with same-sex partners could not be denied the partner benefits given to married couples.
“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 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.”
Around 75 members of Congress have written a letter to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) asking that the IRS clarify federal regulations for LGBT taxpayers who are married or in domestic partnerships. You can find out more on that here.