Marriage Licenses Again Being Issued To Gay Couples In Arkansas

May 15, 2014

A gay couple exchanges rings during a ceremony Monday at the Pulaski County Courthouse.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Same-sex couples are again being allowed to marry in some Arkansas counties after a judge Thursday clarified a previous decision.

Gay marriages were stopped in Pulaski and Washington Counties Wednesday after the Arkansas Supreme Court noted last week’s ruling didn’t address a law that applied to county clerks. One day later Circuit Judge Chris Piazza struck down all state laws preventing gay couples from getting married.

“I’m very disappointed in the overall ruling,” said Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council, which pushed for passage a decade ago of a constitutional amendment that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman.

“You have a judge in Little Rock that took the age-old definition of marriage that was written into the Arkansas constitution in a fair election by three-quarters of a million Arkansans and he simply said, ‘I don’t agree with that definition. I’m going to strike it down,” Cox said.

He’s encouraging people to contact their local county clerks and urge them not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until an appeal by the state can be heard by the Arkansas Supreme Court.

But in Pulaski, County Clerk Larry Crane said “We are issuing licenses again.”

He says the first couple showed up about 2:10 p.m., shortly after this latest ruling was released.

Washington County’s attorney says same-sex couples are also being allowed to wed there, but Clerk Betty Lewallen says the office has been getting some very angry calls and emails.

Clerks in Saline and White counties said immediately after the ruling that they would not be issuing licenses.

Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis said he wants the case to be decided first by the Arkansas Supreme Court. His office had initially provided licenses at the start of the week.

White County Clerk Cheryl Evens said she was consulting with her county attorney.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, Crane said five licenses had been issued to same-sex couples in Pulaski County. Before Wednesday’s action by the state’s high court halted marriages, more than 450 gay Arkansas couples had wed.

Crane says he’s glad Judge Piazza took action to revise his decision.

“I thought that the first ruling on the law and on the precedence that he cited was very, very strong, very unequivocal, and now that he’s gone back and dotted this ‘i’ or crossed this ‘t,” Crane said. “I think it’s a very powerful statement of what he believes the law to be.”

But Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel is again asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to stop marriage licenses from being issued by staying Piazza’s ruling until an appeal by the state can be considered.

The AG’s office says the action is needed to resolve confusion and uncertainly among clerks around the state on whether to issue licenses.

Meanwhile Republican state Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway is expected to ask his colleagues to pass a resolution urging the state’s high court to uphold the 2004 gay marriage ban and invalidate the licenses that have been issued to same-sex couples. Rapert says he’ll present the non-binding resolution, which has at least 20 co-sponsors, to the Arkansas Legislative Council Friday.

Information from Associated Press reports contributed to this story.