Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Judge Rules Property Tax Break Denial to Same-Sex Couples Unconstitutional
One couple claims they were denied full access to a property tax exemption for their home --an exemption given to all senior citizens-- because they're gay. That changed Monday.
The marriage of same-sex couples is not recognized in Alaska, which means gay and lesbian homeowners are not eligible for property tax breaks.
That is, until Monday when a Superior Court judge ruled that denial by the state is unconstitutional.
Three couples filed a lawsuit against the state, including Gayle Schuh and Julie Schmidt. The couple has been together for 34 years and say it’s about being treated the same way other couples are treated, which they say includes the right to buy a house and the right to property tax breaks.
Schmidt and Schuh –both retired school teachers in their 60s— claim they were denied full access to a property tax exemption for their Eagle River home, an exemption given to all senior citizens.
“For the last three years, we haven't been receiving the full amount of tax exemptions that we could have been,” said Schuh. “$30,000 a year for the last three years,” she continued.
They joined two other couples in a lawsuit against the state citing discrimination because they're gay.
“We are as much of a couple after being together for 34 years as any man and woman that have gone before a judge and gotten married,” said Schuh.
But the state disagreed, insisting the couples suing are not constitutionally protected because same-sex marriages are not recognized in Alaska.
“If you tell me I can't be married and then you discriminate against me because I can't be married then there's a problem,” said Schuh.
Superior Court Judge Frank Pfiffner agreed with the couples, ruling that the marital code of the tax exemption violates the state's equal protection clause.
“People can say, ‘boy, I didn't realize that they didn't have the same equalities that we did’ and then it makes it slightly easier for the next set of people to take that step forward,” said Schuh.
Tax assessors from the Department of Commerce would not comment other than to say there could be an appeal on Monday’s decision.
In the meantime, all three couples named in the lawsuit will get a property tax exemption which allows senior citizens to claim up to $150,000.