Same-Sex Couples Line Up To Marry After Arkansas Court Decision

May 12, 2014

The Arkansas Supreme Court is giving parties involved in the case that tossed out the state’s ban on same-sex marriage until noon Tuesday to respond to a request for a stay. Meanwhile hundreds of gay couples are taking advantage of the opportunity to wed.

Eureka Springs became the first location in the state where same-sex couples could get marriage licenses. Officials in the north Arkansas town began issuing them Saturday.

At the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, couples began lining up before dawn Monday for the first opportunity to to get licenses there. When the doors opened at 8 a.m., the jovial crowd was greeted by Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Larry Crane.

"With the number of people that we expect applying for marriage licenses, it may pile up. We want you all to be comfortable and happy. We welcome you," Crane said to applause.

Shelly Butler and Susan Barr pose after becoming the first in Little Rock to get a marriage license.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

People were then allowed in, with the first couple to complete a license being Shelly Butler and Susan Barr, who have been together for 29 years.

Butler said it’s a day she never thought she would see. "Not in my home state of Arkansas, but I’m very proud to be an Arkansan."

The couple met while they were students in the 1980s at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia. Barr says they decided to take advantage of the opportunity, "Mainly because we’re afraid they’re going to take it back."

Immediately after getting their license, the two were married in the courthouse rotunda.

Mark Norwine and Jonathan Keith Gober show their marriage license Monday.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Also among those tying the knot were Mark Norwine and Jonathan Keith Gober. They’ve been dating almost 10 years and were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Friday’s ruling.

"It’s joyous, it’s overwhelming," Norwine said. "To have this witnessed in front of our families and all the friends that we have, its been amazing."

Gober said the legal battle has been draining, but they’re surprised it led to the opportunity to get married this quickly.

"We thought it would go before the (Arkansas) Supreme Court before it would actually become legal or even before the United States Supreme Court," Gober said.

But not everyone in the courthouse rotunda supported what was happening.

Bishop Charles E. Williams of Covenant of Zion Cathedral Church in Little Rock carries signs objecting to gay marriage Monday.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Bishop Charles E. Williams with Covenant of Zion Cathedral Church in Little Rock held signs while pacing through the celebrations, sharing his beliefs.

"Walk away from this lifestyle today. God loves you today, but not your sin. Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," he repeatedly said.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel formally appealed the case Monday to the Arkansas Supreme Court. He’s also asking justices to issue a stay of Judge Chris Piazza’s ruling Friday, which would halt the issuance of marriage licenses until the matter can be decided in court. It’s unclear how quickly the court will act.

Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Larry Crane believes the same-sex couples who got married will be legally recognized under the law regardless of what happens in the courts.

Pulaski County Circuit Clerk Larry Crane watches as same-sex couples get marriage licenses.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

"For the people who got their licenses and actually go forward and complete their marriage, I am confident that those marriages will be valid," Crane said. "For people who get licenses and don’t get married today, then I’m not so sure, I’m not clear. We’ll be talking with our county attorney, we’ll be talking with the Attorney General to make sure that everyone’s rights are protected."

Including Pulaski, four Arkansas counties reported that they were granting licenses to gay couples Monday. The others were Saline, Washington and Marion Counties.

Carroll, which had initially started granting licenses, stopped. Officials there and elsewhere said they wanted to wait until the Arkansas Supreme Court can weigh in on the matter.