Alaska Supreme Court: Gay Couples Have Equal Property Tax Righs

by Rachel D’oro
Saturday Apr 26, 2014
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Same-sex couples in Alaska are equally entitled to the same state property-tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled veterans as married couples, the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The decision upholds a 2011 Superior Court ruling on a taxation case involving three same-sex Anchorage couples who sued the state and municipality of Anchorage 2010 through the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska.

Joshua Decker, executive director of ACLU of Alaska, hailed the opinion, saying it shows that discrimination has no place in the state.

"Simply because you happen to be gay or lesbian, you should not be paying more taxes," he said. "Your tax bill should not turn on who you happen to love."

A brief statement released by the Alaska Department of Law said the state was still reviewing the opinion. "Because of the potential implications of this case, it will take time to thoroughly evaluate the decision," the statement said.

The high court reversed the earlier court ruling for one of the couples, saying the senior citizen in the couple had no actual ownership in the property owned by his younger partner. The couple thus was not eligible under state law allowing seniors at least 65 years old and disabled veterans to exclude from their property taxes the first $150,000 of assessed value of primary homes, the court said.

The court disagreed with the Superior Court’s reading of a provision stating that "the reimbursement applies, regardless of whether the property is held in the name of the husband, wife, or both," saying the lower court reasoned that the language extended the exemption to eligible individuals who live with their spouse but do not own the home.

"We do not read the regulation as making it irrelevant that a senior citizen has no ownership interest at all," Friday’s ruling states. "The regulation does make it irrelevant that the property ’is held in the name of the husband, wife, or both.’ That language means that the identity of the title holder is not itself determinative, but the regulation does not say that actual ownership is irrelevant."

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