Several gay couples lined up early on Monday in Alaska to apply for marriage licenses after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on same-sex unions.
Matthew Hamby, the lead plaintiff in the case to make gay marriage legal in Alaska, was among the first to arrive to get his license in the city of Anchorage and spent most of the morning helping others. He got to his application only after the steady stream of couples began to dwindle.
With the judge's decision Sunday, the far-flung conservative state became the latest to see its ban struck down in a flurry of legal rulings that have drastically changed the landscape for same-sex marriage across America.
Gov. Sean Parnell has promised an appeal to get the ban reinstated, and lawyers for the state are looking for weaknesses in the ruling. But the state's chances of winning an appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were slim since it already ruled last week against gay marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada.
The developments in Alaska came one week since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals from several states seeking to retain their bans on same-sex marriage. The Oct. 6 move effectively legalized gay marriage in about 30 states and triggered a flurry of rulings and confusion in lower courts across the nation, including the Alaska decision.
Alaska has a three-day waiting period between applications and marriage ceremonies, meaning the first unions could come Thursday.
Alaska gay marriage opponents have said the matter should be decided by the people, not the courts.
Hamby called the governor's plans "ridiculous and futile." He said restoring the ban would harm same-sex couples by depriving them of equal protection under the law, a position U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Burgess agreed with in his ruling Sunday.
"Refusing the rights and responsibilities afforded by legal marriage sends the public a government-sponsored message that same-sex couples and their familial relationships do not warrant the status, benefits and dignity given to couples of the opposite sex," Burgess wrote in overturning the ban.
Five gay couples brought the Alaska lawsuit in May, seeking to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1998. The Alaska amendment defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.