Judge: Alaska’s Tax Rules Discriminate Against Same-Sex Couples


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.

Statements via the ACLU:

“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.”

You can find a copy of the full press release and a link to the judge’s ruling here.

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.

Related Reading:

ACLU Sues Alaska Over Trans Woman’s Driver’s License

Bill to End Tax Inequity Same-Sex Couples Face in Health Benefits Part of Wider Tax Reform?

Lesbian Couple on Why They’re Suing a Vermont Inn

Photo used under the MorgueFile user license, with thanks to pennywise.


Jane H.
Jane H6 years ago

Thank you , Judge!

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

William Y.
William Y6 years ago

@ Kristina J. For what purpose, are people who get married by a Justice of the peace not married? I was married by a Staff judge advocate, does that mean my marriage license is invalid? Marriage is a civil matter, the ceremony is the only thing religious about it to those who wish such things.

Wayne M.
Wayne M6 years ago

This court decision is a wise decision. You cannot tell me that a same-sex couple who have made a faithful and caring life together are less married than an opposite-sex couple in which one or both partners is less than faithful or who take the attitude that they will try the marriage and get out of it if it does not work.

No, Kristina J.: As a Christian, I do not believe marriage should be reserved for churches and religious organizations, especially since most people do not belong to or support any particular religious institution. Legal recognition, rights and privileges should be given to civil marriage between two people to the exclusion of all others. This does not stop churches and and religious organizations from defining sacramental or religious marriage as they wish with the privileges and rights they wish to grant to their own members. However, as the state may not set certain religious beliefs or interfere with the free exercise of religious beliefs, a religious marriage must remain just that with no special legal privileges or rights.

Chris M.
Chris M6 years ago

So very tired of being treated like I don't have the same rights as straight people. And for those of you who think being gay is a choice try this - try falling in love with someone of your gender. Does it work? Exactly.

Kristina J.
Kristina J6 years ago

There is a simple solution, give 'marriages' to the church, and only recognize 'domestic partnerships' for the government. It does not get any more constitutional than separation of church and state.

Doug Alley
Doug Alley6 years ago

Now we need to get rulings in the other 49 states. If there is to be equality, then lets have it all the way, not just a little bit at a time. There is no reason why a gay couple should not have the same rights as a straight couple.The same thing goes for married gay military people as well. They need to draw the same benefits as the straight men and women in the service.