Arkansans React To Same-Sex Marriage Decision, Clerks Issue Licenses

Jun 26, 2015

Erica Byars and Natalie Courson get married in the rotunda of the Pulaski County Courthouse after getting a marriage license Friday.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

Same-sex couples are getting married in Arkansas after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling Friday that state same-sex  marriage bans are unconstitutional. 

The 5-to-4 decision has LGBT people in Arkansas rejoicing and state conservative groups lambasting the decision.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy issued the majority opinion in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. Kennedy's opinion says the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution compels states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It also says that states must recognize the legality of same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states.

In Arkansas, more than 500 same-sex marriage licenses were issued last year after a Pulaski County Judge ruled a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman was unconstitutional. Those marriage were halted after a one week period when the case was appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court. The state's high court heard oral arguments, but never issued a ruling, perhaps waiting for the nation's high court to issue an opinion.

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday, LGBT advocates praised the decision, saying it was a moment they had long been waiting for.

"Honestly, my first reaction is just pure happiness,” said Tippi McCullough, who heads the Stonewall Democrats, an LGBT advocacy group. "Tears just started running down my face."

"It's funny, when the news came through this morning I thought it would be pure joy. In a way it is, but I also found that it was pure relief," said Nikole Brown, who married her partner Jessica Jacobs in California. The two are both writers currently based in Little Rock.

"We have been holding an anxiety in us for a really long time. We travel a lot and one of the things we knew is that from state to state to state, as we were giving our readings and as we were visiting these different places, we were either recognized as a legally married couple or we were not," Jacobs said. The court's decision puts to rest that previously held anxiety, she said.

On the other side of the issue, the response was different. 

Jerry Cox, head of the Family Council, speaks to reporters Friday at the state Capitol.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

"Marriage has always been under the purview of the states. States have generally defined marriage generally in line with our Judeo-Christian heritage," said Jerry Cox, director of the Family Council, an Arkansas-based Christian-conservative advocacy group.

Cox said there would be "dire consequences of today's ruling." Among them, Cox said the underlying problem in light of the decision is how a marriage is now defined.

"If a marriage can be two men or two women, why can't it be three men, or four women?" he asked, during a phone interview with KUAR. 

Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Larry Crane (center) at the county courthouse Friday.
Credit Sarah Whites-Koditschek / KUAR News

Immediately after the ruling Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Larry Crane instructed his staff to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples. His office was one of three counties that also issued licenses after last year's ruling tossed out the state amendment.

Scott Perkins, Legislative and Communications Director for the Association of Arkansas Counties, said his agency will continue to "digest" the court's opinion in the coming days. He said they are advising county clerks statewide to begin issuing gender-neutral marriage licenses.

"I think the majority of our county clerks have certainly been preparing for this in the last several months," he said, referring to the technicalities of issuing gender-neutral licenses . "I think many of them have actually launched those forms and software this morning."

Statements From Arkansas Elected Officials/Politicians

Full statements can be found here.

Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) said in a statement despite his personal objections Arkansas will comply with the ruling.

“…as Governor I recognize the responsibility of the state to follow the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result of this ruling, I will direct all state agencies to comply with the decision.”

Hutchinson also offered some consolation to his base, which is opposed to the ruling, noting individuals and religions won’t be forced to change anything about their practices or beliefs.

“It is not a directive for churches or pastors to recognize same-sex marriage. The decision for churches, pastors and individuals is a choice that should be left to the convictions of conscience."

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) also disagreed with the SCOTUS decision in a statement and suggested implementation might not happen with same speed in all areas. Rutledge also gave a nod of approval to those opposed to the ruling while asking supporters to tone down the pursuit of their now affirmed right.

“We are continuing to review this landmark decision to make sure the full implications are understood and that implementation is consistent with the rule of law. I urge those seeking to marry to be respectful as the State seeks to follow this ruling. Moving forward, it is critically important that the rights of religious freedom be protected, and I am committed to doing so.”

2016 GOP Presidential candidate and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee a took a noticeably more hard-line approach in his disagreement with the ruling in his release.

“I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch. We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

Huckabee, as he did with the King v Burwell decision on Affordable Care Act subsidies, contended the US Supreme Court lacks authority for the ruling.

"The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature's God on marriage than it can the laws of gravity. Under our Constitution, the court cannot write a law, even though some cowardly politicians will wave the white flag and accept it without realizing that they are failing their sworn duty to reject abuses from the court.”

While Arkansas-related Republicans expressed firm opposition some of those in the Democratic Party offered an unambiguous endorsement, including in a statement by Democratic Party of Arkansas Chair Vincent Insalaco.

“Those of us in the Democratic Party who support this vital issue realize the importance of this decision. Individual liberty is a core value of the Democratic Party.”

However, Insalaco noted not all Democrats view it a “milestone” to be celebrated.

“To those in our party who disagree with this decision, I want to take a second to make sure we all understand what this ruling does. This ruling does not mandate what religious groups must do. It mandates what government must do. That is to respect the rights of every single American. That government does not have the authority to discriminate against anyone who marries.”

Insalaco added Arkansas can do more to promote equality for LGBT residents than following the law as set by the US Supreme Court.

“…it is also crucial to recognize that the job is not finished. LGBT Arkansans can still be fired from their jobs for whom they are.”