Arkansas judge strikes down gay marriage ban, dozens to marry in Fayetteville

Long lines of couples waiting to get their marriage licenses formed at the Washington County Courthouse Monday after Pulaski County Circuit Judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional late Friday.

Staff photo

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on Friday struck down a ban on same-sex marriage, ruling that the state has “no rational reason” for preventing gay couples from marrying in Arkansas.

Piazza overruled the 2004 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution, and said it was a violation of same-sex couples’ rights.

In the ruling, Piazza cited a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated laws on interracial marriage.

From the ruling:

It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice,” the ruling reads. “The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.

The office of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said it would appeal Piazza’s decision. That appeal is expected be filed as early as Monday.

McDaniel made headlines recently when he stated publicly that he is personally in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry, though he would continue defending the state’s 2004 ban on gay marriages in court.

Dozens of couples waited outside the courtroom Monday morning for their first chance to pick up a marriage license in Arkansas

Staff photo

“We respect the Court’s decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General’s obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal,” a rep from McDaniel’s office told the Associated Press.

Piazza did not put his ruling on hold pending the expected appeal, meaning same-sex couples could immediately begin seeking marriage licenses in the state.

Fort Smith residents Kristin Seaton, 27, and Jennifer Rambo, 26, were the first same-sex couple to obtain the certificate in Eureka Springs on Saturday, and the two were married shortly after by Fayetteville minister Laura Phillips. In all, 15 licenses were granted in Eureka Springs on Saturday.

Long lines formed early Monday morning at the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville where Justice of the Peace Eva Madison said the county would be issuing marriage licenses “for all.”

“Washington County is a party to the Wright lawsuit and therefore bound by Judge Piazza’s ruling allowing same-sex marriages in Arkansas,” Madison said. “My fellow Justice of the Peace Candy Clark and I will be at the courthouse Monday morning at 8 a.m. to perform ceremonies and/or sign marriage licenses.”

Once the appeal is issued, it is unclear as to whether the licenses issued will remain valid. According to the Los Angeles Times, the answer is “possibly,” due to the fact that the state court lawsuit listed only six counties as defendants. Jack Wagoner, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys handling the case, said that in the counties where the lawsuit was mentioned, the licenses would be difficult to invalidate.

“Clearly, right now, any of the counties that were sued would be on shaky ground if they don’t issue marriage licenses,” Wagoner said. “It’s more questionable the applicability of the ruling to state government entities that were not in the lawsuit.”

Following Judge Piazza’s ruling, Human Rights Campaign president and Arkansas native Chad Griffin issued a statement of support.

“I want to congratulate the plaintiffs in this case, as well as lead attorney Cheryl Maples and co-counsel Jack Wagoner, on this historic victory for Arkansas values,” Griffin said. “All across my home state, throughout the South, and around the country, LGBT people and their families are seeking basic respect and dignity. This victory is an essential step on the journey toward full equality for all.”

According to Griffin, the Arkansas case is one of over 70 marriage equality cases working their way through the judicial system across the country. These cases have been filed in 29 states plus Puerto Rico and account for hundreds of plaintiffs taking on state marriage bans.

Same-sex couples can legally marry in seventeen states and the District of Columbia, while 33 states have a law or constitutional amendment restricting marriage to the union of one man and one woman.

Piazza’s full ruling is available over at the Arkansas Times.