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Arkansas judge strikes down gay marriage ban

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 9, 2014 at 8:47 pm •  Published: May 9, 2014
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A judge on Friday struck down Arkansas' ban on same-sex marriage, saying the state has "no rational reason" for preventing gay couples from marrying.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that the 2004 voter-approved amendment to the state constitution violates the rights of same-sex couples. He didn't put his ruling on hold as some judges have done in other states, opening the door for same-sex couples in Arkansas to begin seeking marriage licenses, though it was not clear whether that would happen before Monday.

"This is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality," Piazza wrote. "The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a dangerous precedent."

State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel's office said he would appeal the ruling and asked Piazza to suspend it during that process.

"We respect the Court's decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General's obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal," spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

Piazza issued his ruling late Friday, about half an hour after the marriage license office in Pulaski County closed.

Arkansas courthouses typically aren't open on weekends, but with the state in its early-voting period for a May 20 primary, several clerks' offices will be open Saturday. However, clerks reached by The Associated Press after Piazza issued his ruling said they hadn't been formally notified of it and weren't prepared to begin issuing marriage licenses.

At least one couple who sued over the ban said they hoped to wed quickly. Kathy Henson said she and her girlfriend Angelia Buford planned to seek a marriage license in neighboring Saline County as soon as offices opened.

"We think that (Piazza) did a really great job and that he ruled on the right side of history," Henson said.

The ruling came a week after McDaniel announced he personally supports gay marriage rights but would continue to defend the constitutional ban in court. Sadler said McDaniel sought the stay because "we know that questions about validity of certain actions will arise absent a stay."

The amendment was passed in 2004 with the overwhelming support of Arkansas voters. Piazza's ruling also overturns a 1997 state law banning gay marriage.

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