Arkansas High Court Won't Stay Gay Marriage Ruling

May 14, 2014

A couple kisses while standing in line Monday at the Pulaski County Clerk's office for a marriage license.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas Supreme Court has rejected the state attorney general's request for a stay of a judge's ruling that overturned Arkansas' constitutional ban on gay marriage.

The high court on Wednesday turned down the request from Attorney General Dustin McDaniel that would have halted the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses.

But the court also gave no direction to counties about what they should do, saying the circuit judge's ruling had no effect on a state law barring clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Two counties had been issuing licenses despite that prohibition. Pulaski County said it would continue to do so.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza had ruled last week that a voter-approved gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, but didn't issue a stay. A few counties began issuing marriage licenses, and by midweek about 450 couples had gotten them.

The vast majority of the state's counties refused to grant licenses, saying the Supreme Court needed to weigh in. McDaniel said a stay was necessary because clerks did not know whether they were obligated to issue licenses.

The Arkansas attorney general's office on Wednesday had again pressed the state's highest court to suspend a judge's decision striking down a gay marriage ban, saying it had led to "pervasive" confusion among clerks about whether they can grant licenses to same-sex couples.

Responding to a request filed by lawyers for gay couples seeking the dismissal of his appeal, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office asked the court to suspend Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza's ruling striking down a 2004 constitutional amendment approved by voters and a similar 1997 state law. Piazza ruled Friday that the prohibition violates the U.S. and Arkansas constitution.

"Confusion is pervasive, and this court should exercise its superintending authority over circuit courts to issue a stay," Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen wrote in the brief.

Attorneys for the couples who sought to overturn the ban told the court late Tuesday afternoon that McDaniel's appeal was premature since a final order had not been issued by Piazza.

The AG told the court in Wednesday's filing that it wouldn't object to the court dismissing his appeal on those grounds if justices granted a stay.

In the filing, McDaniel's office also said it agreed with lawyers for four counties who asked for a stay on the grounds that Piazza's ruling didn't address a separate law prohibiting clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

"The state agrees that there are a bevy of unanswered questions that have arisen from the circuit court's order. This confusion and uncertainty supports a stay by this court," the attorney general's office said.