Alaska has admitted to wrongfully denying some same-sex couples financial benefits for several years by claiming their unions weren’t recognized by the state.
Each year, most Alaskan residents receive an “oil wealth check,” which is seen as an entitlement payment that many people put towards high heating costs, snowmobiles, and other annual essentials. Last year, the Associated Press said nearly every state resident received $992, and the year before, that amount was $1,606.
According to court documents obtained by the AP, the Permanent Fund Dividend Division, the agency that determines eligibility for the yearly oil wealth check, "denied payouts to same-sex spouses or dependents of military members stationed in other states for five years after a federal court invalidated Alaska’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2014."
The AP said the agency continued the practice even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions nationwide in 2015.
In November 2019, Alaska resident Denali Smith, who is in a same-sex marriage and had been denied the benefits, filed a lawsuit against the state, seeking an order declaring that Alaska officials violated the federal court ruling and Smith’s constitutional rights to equal protection and due process.
The state settled Denali’s lawsuit last Wednesday, admitting to denying benefits to same-sex military spouses and dependents for five years in violation of a permanent injunction put in place by the 2014 U.S. District Court decision.
The state has vowed to no longer use the outdated law, to stop denying same-sex military spouses and dependents oil checks going forward, and to update its enforcement regulations. There were no financial terms to the suit.