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Same sex marriage (SSM) in Arkansas

2014-MAY-10 to 12: Part 4:
Same-sex couples obtain licenses.
Marriages begin. Reactions to
Judge Piazza's ruling.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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wedding rings2014-MAY-9 & 10: Couples prepare to be married:

Judge Piazza's ruling in Arkansas was filed on late Friday afternoon after the county clerks' offices were closed for the day. 1,2

Most loving, committed same-sex couples are familiar with the situation as it existed in Arkansas. In the past, judicial rulings in a number of states had allowed same-sex couples to marry. However, the window of opportunity was often slammed shut within hours or days. Many same-sex couples across the U.S. have learned to react instantly to any opportunity to marry whenever it arises in their state.

The most recent previous occurrence happened in Utah on 2013-DEC-20 when federal judge Robert J. Shelby of the U.S. District Court for Utah issued a 53 page ruling declaring Amendment 3 to the state's Constitution to be unconstitutional. He determined, like many other District Court judges before him and since, that the Amendment violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. He did not issue a stay, and so same-sex couples became free to marry. Many couples rushed to their local county clerks' offices requesting marriage licenses. By the time that the State of Utah was finally able to arrange a stay of the District Court's ruling, many days later, some 1,300 same-sex couples had been able to marry. The Utah case is now before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and new same-sex marriages are at least temporarily suspended in the state.

Since Judge Piazza's ruling was issued after normal office hours, the earliest that couples could obtain their marriage licenses was Saturday morning, MAY-10. A few couples were prepared and arrived at their local county clerks' offices before opening time.

Kristin Seaton, 27, of Jacksonville and Jennifer Rambo, 26 of Fort Smith drove to Eureka Springs overnight, arriving in the parking lot of the Carrol County clerk's office at about 2 AM. They spent the rest of the night in their car waking every half hour to make certain nobody else had arrived to be first in line. They watched for any additional cars entering the parking lot. When one did come, they rushed up to the front door in order to be the first to obtain a marriage license.

When the office opened, there were about ten same-sex couples waiting. At first, there was confusion over whether Judge Piazza's order was valid in Eureka Springs some 150 miles away from Little Rock. Seaton and Rambo were denied a license at first. Rambo said that:

"We just walked out of there crying."

Deputy clerk Gordon was preparing to close the office. He was con and didn't want to wait another day. Taylor told Gordon that:

"Your job is to issue marriage license to everyone that's here."

Paul Wank, 80, of Eureka Springs, pointed his cane at Gordon, who reacted:

""You don't have to be hateful sir."

Wank responded:

"You've been hateful to people like me for years. So keep up. You're doing everything you can to stall."

Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn resolved the confusion. She ruled that the couples could obtain their licenses. The other couples let Rambo and Seaton return to their place at the head of the line. Rambo was deeply moved, saying:

"Some of these people here have been waiting [to be married for] 50 years and they still instructed us to come up front."

The licenses were custom modified for the occasion. Wite-out™ had been used to change the "Mr" to "Ms" on one side of the license. If any of the couples who obtained licenses on that day decide to not marry, their license might well become a collectors' item worth much more than they paid for it.

Seaton and Rambo were married minutes later on a sidewalk near the courthouse. A total of 15 licenses were sold on that remarkable day in Carrol County. 3

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MAY-12: More licenses issued:

Some same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses waited in line overnight for the Pulaski County clerk's office to open in Little Rock, AR on Monday morning. More than 50 couples were in line by the time that the county clerk, Larry Crane, opened the office at 7:15 which is 45 minutes early. Smiling, he said: "We welcome you."

The local office of the Human Rights Campaign -- a pro-equality group -- provided coffee and pastries. Over a half dozen local clergy and four circuit judges were on hand to marry couples on the spot. 4

Shelly Butler, 51, of Dallas, AR and her partner Susan Barr, 48 were there. They had met at Southern Arkansas University and have been partners for almost 30 years. She said:

"When we heard the news in Arkansas, we had to jump in the car to get here."

They arrived at the courthouse at 6:30 AM and were able to go to the front of the line because Shelly has muscular dystrophy and is in a wheelchair.

Susan Barr said:

"I am just in shock, I think. You go from being so private and hidden to such a public display of commitment. It's just so nice." 5

Rick Ward, 47, is the pastor at a Reformed Catholic church at Hot Springs, AR. He and Scott Harder, 45, have been in a relationship for 17 years. After they obtained their license and were married, Rick said:

"We’re overjoyed to be recognized by the State of Arkansas. The freight train of equality is roaring across the country, and people need to wake up and be aware of it." 4

New York Post reported that:

"More than 200 gay couples obtained Arkansas marriage licenses Monday after a judge tossed out the state’s 10-year-old same-sex marriage ban, but only at a handful of courthouses as an overwhelming majority of county clerks in this part of the Bible Belt said they first wanted the state Supreme Court to weigh in.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel — who recently announced his personal support for same-sex marriage rights but said he would defend the law — filed paperwork Monday to at least temporarily preserve the ban ..."

"Seventy of the state’s 75 clerks have not granted licenses. A handful of clerks, including one who granted licenses Monday, filed a stay request saying the judge’s decision didn’t address a law that threatens clerks with fines for 'wrongful issuance of a marriage license'." 6

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Ambiguities concerning Judge Piazza's ruling cleared resolved:

There was initially a difference of opinion about the scope of Judge Piazza's ruling. Opinions differed as to whether it is applicable:

  • only in the single county, Pulaski, of which he is the county judge;

  • in six of Arkansas' 75 counties where the individual plaintiffs live; or

  • across all of Arkansas.

There is a general consensus that it is enforceable in the six counties where the plaintiffs reside. This was confirmed later by Judge Piazza.

One additional complication was a state law that penalizes county clerks who issue licenses to same-sex couples. It was not initially mentioned in Judge Piazza's ruling due to a clerical error. The Association of Arkansas Counties recommended that clerks consult their legal counsel to decide whether to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Many clerks were nervous about the possibility of being prosecuted under this law. The final version of Judge Piazza's ruling declared this act to also be unconstitutional, void and unenforceable. 8

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Reactions to same-sex marriages in Arkansas:

  • Jerry Cox is president of the Arkansas Family Council. His group organized the campaign to have Amendment 83 placed on the ballot in 2004. They have worked tirelessly over more than a decade to prohibit all same-sex couples from being able to marry.

    He now expressed major concern for the same-sex couples who are now obtaining their marriage licenses. He is worried that if a stay is issued in the future, it will create confusion throughout the state. He said:

    "Are these people married? Are they unmarried?. Judge Piazza did a tremendous disservice to the people of Arkansas by leaving this in limbo."

    It would seem that the same-sex couples getting married would prefer to take a chance and be married now even though recognition of their married state might possibly be rolled back in the future. They had the choice to stay at home, but chose to seize the day in the hope that their marriage will be honored permanently.

In the past, the federal government has recognized marriages that were solemnized under conditions like exist in Arkansas. One example are the 1,300 couples who married in Utah while the state government scrambled trying to obtain a stay. 7 Federal recognition is very important because it gives married same-sex couples the same access to 1,138 federal programs that are automatically enjoyed by all married opposite-sex couples.

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This topic is continued in the following essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paresh Dave, "Arkansas ban on gay marriage struck down by county judge, with no stay," Los Angeles Times, 2014-MAY-09, at: http://www.latimes.com/
  2. C.C. Piazza, "Order granting summary judgment ... M. Kendall Wright et al. v. State of Arkansas, et al.", Document Cloud, 2014-MAY-09, at: https://www.documentcloud.org/
  3. "Arkansas clerk issues 1st gay marriage license," Newsday, 2014-MAY-10, at: http://www.newsday.com/
  4. Michael Wines, "Same-Sex Couples in Arkansas Rush to Wed as Court Ruling Provides an Opening," New York Times, 2014-MAY-12, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  5. Gay couples marry in Little Rock. AG seeks stay," Associated Press, 2014-MAY-12, at: http://www.npr.org/
  6. "Gay couples begin obtaining marriage licenses in Arkansas," New York Post, 2014-MAR-13, at: http://nypost.com/
  7. Christina Huynh, "Arkansas clerk issues 1st gay marriage license," Yahoo! News, 2014-MAY-10, at: http://news.yahoo.com/
  8. "Arkansas judge fixes 'clerical error,' officially OKing gay marriage," Los Angeles Times, 2014-MAY-15, at: http://www.latimes.com/

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-MAY-12
Latest update: 2014-MAY-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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