Courts Hear Arguments On Arkansas Gay Marriage Case

Nov 20, 2014

Arkansas Supreme Court

The Arkansas Supreme Court and a federal judge heard oral arguments Thursday  on whether a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman is valid.

The state's high court is considering the appeal of a Pulaski County judge's ruling earlier this year that said the amendment, approved by voters in 2004, is unconstitutional.

Assistant Arkansas Attorney General Colin Jorgensen represented the state, asking that the amendment be allowed to stand.

"This court should defer to the democratic process and defer to the voters of Arkansas and hold that there is no fundamental right to same-sex marriage, that sexual orientation is not a protected class under the equal protection clause and that Arkansas amendment 83 is rational and therefore constitutional," Jorgensen said.

But attorney Jack Wagoner, who brought the lawsuit on behalf of a group of same-sex couples, said that doesn’t mean it's legitimate.

"The argument is that the voters passed it and that ends it.  You can't amend away constitutional rights," Wagoner said.  "Imagine this: what if the people went to the polls and they passed a law that said everybody has to join the Baptist church.  Is that the end of it?  Courts can't review that?  No.  It'd clearly be a violation of the freedom of religion."

The state Supreme Court did not immediately issue a decision after the hour-long hearing, with a ruling expected within a few weeks.

Meanwhile U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker heard similar arguments Thursday afternoon while considering a request by same-sex couples for summary judgment in the case and a separate motion by the state for dismissal of the lawsuit.  She also did not give an immediate ruling.

More than 500 gay couples in Arkansas were granted marriage licenses in May after the initial decision from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza. A stay was eventually issued pending appeal.