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Supreme Court of the United States

Bess v. Ulmer

Last Updated: 5/29/2020


What's at stake

  • Protecting the right of voters and legislators to direct social and family policy in their state.
  • Protecting the right of the voters to affirm marriage as the union of one man and one woman. 


Alaska’s legislature passed a marriage amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman that would then be placed on the ballot and voted on by the people. To keep the amendment from being approved, the ACLU and other opponents filed suit to remove it from the ballot. The Lieutenant Governor of Alaska also issued a summary of the ballot measure that described it as intending “to limit marriage” rather than preserving what marriage has always meant. Alliance Defending Freedom allied attorneys, led by Kevin Clarkson, went to court on behalf of the Alaska Legislature to keep the marriage amendment on the ballot and to fix the misleading description designed to influence people to oppose it.

The Alaska Supreme Court took the case and agreed that the marriage amendment belonged on the ballot. It concluded that the amendment could be voted on by the people without requiring a state constitutional convention. Voting took place in 1998, and the marriage amendment passed with 68% of the vote, establishing that “[t]o be valid or recognized in” the State of Alaska “a marriage may exist only between one man and one woman.”

Alliance Defending Freedom and its allies defended marriage in Alaska and continue their efforts throughout the nation.

Our role in this case

Alliance Defending Freedom trained and provided funding so that Kevin Clarkson and other allied attorneys could defend Alaska’s marriage amendment in court.

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Legal Documents

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