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Arkansas AG files notice of appeal in same-sex marriage case

County clerks scrambling to prepare for same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses on Monday
Saturday, May 10, 2014
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The state’s top lawyer will ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision to overturn a 2004 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced his intent to appeal to the high court late Saturday night, but not before 15 licenses were issued for same-sex couples in northwest Arkansas’ Carroll County, heralding the arrival of gay marriage in the Bible Belt.

Dustin McDanielDanny Johnston, AP

Dustin McDaniel

Carroll County was believed to be the only county that issued marriage licenses Saturday. Several courthouses were open for early primary-election voting but staffers said they were not prepared to issue marriage licenses.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza paved the way for the marriages Friday with a ruling that removed a 10-year-old barrier, saying a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2004 banning gay marriage was “an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality.” Piazza’s ruling also overturned a 1997 state law banning same-sex marriage.

McDaniel has asked Piazza to suspend his ruling, but also formally said late Saturday he wants the state Supreme Court to take up the matter. That appeal has not yet been filed.

But because Piazza didn’t issue a stay, Arkansas’ 75 county clerks were left to decide for themselves whether to grant marriage licenses. That caused confusion among county clerks, Association of Arkansas Counties executive director Chris Villines said.

“The court didn’t give us any time to get the kinks worked out,” he said.

It isn’t clear how many counties would issue same-sex marriage licenses Monday, Villines said Saturday after a conference call with clerks from around the state.

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Jason Owens, an attorney for four of the six counties named in the lawsuit over the gay marriage ban, said he’ll ask Piazza for guidance Monday how to proceed.

“My clients want to follow the law. We just want to know what the law is, essentially,” Owens said.

Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, which promoted Arkansas’ ban, said Piazza’s decision to not suspend his ruling will create confusion if a stay is issued.

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

Villines says he’s disappointed a stay wasn’t issued pending an appeal — especially since clerks are in the middle of early voting for the May 20 primary.

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