What's at Stake
Same-sex couples challenging Alaska’s discriminatory tax law
Three Alaska same-sex couples are challenging Alaska’s tax-assessment rules, which unfairly deny same-sex couples equal access to a property tax exemption for senior citizens and disabled veterans. Those who qualify and who live with same-sex partners are only permitted, at most, half of the $150,000 exemption available to opposite-sex married couples because they are treated as roommates rather than families.
The lawsuit charges that denying same-sex couples full access to the exemption violates an earlier Alaska Supreme Court ruling that says that treating same-sex couples differently from different-sex couples violates the state constitution’s equal protection guarantees. The couples involved in the lawsuit are:
- Julie Schmidt, 67, and Gayle Schuh, 62, have been in a committed relationship for 33 years. After retiring from careers in education and selling their home in Illinois, they moved to Alaska and now own a home in Eagle River.
- Julie Vollick and Susan Bernard, who have been together for seven years and are the parents of four children, jointly purchased their Eagle River home in 2004. Vollick retired from the United States Air Force after 20 years of service, including tours in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has service-related disabilities.
- Fred Traber, 62 and Larry Snider, 69, have been together for 28 years, and have had long careers in Alaska, including small-business ownership and government employment. They live in Anchorage.
STATUS: Victory! The Court rules that the property tax exemption violates equal protection because it treats unmarried same-sex couples differently from married heterosexual couples, even though they are similarly situated with respect to the purposes of the program.