ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A remote outpost on Alaska's Arctic Coast where people are used to doing their own thing has applied that independent streak to gay marriage.
A magistrate in Barrow, Alaska — the nation's northernmost community, and one that cannot be reached by road — has performed what is believed to be the state's first gay marriage ceremony days ahead of schedule. After a federal judge struck down the state's ban, couples across the state lined up Monday to apply for marriage licenses, starting the clock on a mandatory three-day wait until ceremonies could be held.
For Kristine Hilderbrand, 30, and Sarah Ellis, 34, it wasn't about being first when they sought and received a waiver to the three-day wait from Magistrate Mary Treiber. Monday just fit their schedules better.
After completing their marriage license Monday morning, they began to check on available dates for a courthouse ceremony. They then tried to mesh those with their schedules and those of families and friends.
Because Monday was Columbus Day, a federal holiday, members of Ellis' family on the East Coast were able to call into the court's sophisticated teleconference system used for lawyers and defendants who are spread out over the far-flung judicial district when Treiber conducted the marriage ceremony that afternoon.
Hilderbrand's sister was her maid of honor, and her father and nephew also attended. She said Ellis' brother from the Boston area used his thickest New England accent to crack up the room on the speaker phone when he said, "It's wicked awesome that you guys got married."
The wedding came after Alaska helped touch off a national debate 15 years ago with a ban on same-sex unions. U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess ruled Sunday that the ban violated the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. His ruling came over the objection of gay-marriage opponents who say states should decide the issue, not courts.
Burgess on Tuesday denied the state's request to put the marriages on hold. Alaska officials plan to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and could also seek a stay, even though the court has allowed gay marriages to go forward in other states within its jurisdiction.
Cori Mills, a spokeswoman for the Alaska attorney general's office, said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday that the state has not made a final decision yet whether to ask the 9th Circuit for a stay.
Gay couples married outside Alaska or in ceremonies within the state that didn't carry legal standing were among those seeking licenses.
Barrow offered an unusual small-town setting for Hilderbrand and Ellis' wedding. Barrow has about 4,600 people and is 725 miles north of Anchorage. Many residents lead a subsistence lifestyle, and the landing of three bowhead whales last week provided the passionate discussion, not gay marriage or politics.
"I think the scene is different up here," said Hilderbrand, a third-generation Alaskan who was born in Barrow. Residents accept people for who they are, she said.
"The fact that we're in a relationship together and have been for the last six years in this town, people have just been very accepting, and it is just what it is," Hilderbrand said. "It's been such a non-issue here for so long that we were really more focused on getting married and getting to spend the rest of our lives together. We really weren't concerned about all the politics."