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Marriage equality in Arkansas: What’s happened, what’s next?

Friday, May 16, 2014
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Kristin Seaton, center, of Jacksonville, Ark., holds up her marriage license as she leaves the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs, Ark., with her partner, Jennifer Rambo, left, of Fort Smith, Ark. Saturday, May 10, 2014, in Eureka Springs, Ark. Rambo and Seaton were the first same-sex couple to be granted a marriage license in Eureka Springs after a judge overturned Ammendment 83, which banned same-sex marriage in the state of Arkansas.Sarah Bentham, AP

Kristin Seaton, center, of Jacksonville, Ark., holds up her marriage license as she leaves the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs, Ark., with her partner, Jennifer Rambo, left, of Fort Smith, Ark. Saturday, May 10, 2014, in Eureka Springs, Ark. Rambo and Seaton were the first same-sex couple to be granted a marriage license in Eureka Springs after a judge overturned Ammendment 83, which banned same-sex marriage in the state of Arkansas.

Updated: 4:30 p.m. CDT

The Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay at 4:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, suspending last week’s ruling striking down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, and halting the distribution of licenses that have been issued to hundreds of gay couples. Story here


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Same-sex marriages resumed in Arkansas on Thursday after Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza broadened a ruling to say that, in addition to declaring a same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, any state law that prohibits the distribution of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was off the books.

Here are some details about where things stand as of Friday morning is Arkansas’ fight over same-sex marriage:

WHAT HAPPENED THURSDAY?

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza expanded his earlier ruling striking down a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage to also include a separate law that prohibited county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

On May 9, Piazza threw out a 10-year-old ban that voters placed in the state constitution and a separate state law barring same-sex marriages. But in his ruling, he did not address a third law that regulates the conduct of county clerks, which threatens fines if they issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. His ruling Thursday struck down that law as well.

A closer look at Arkansas’ marriage laws are here.

IS THIS THE FINAL WORD?

No. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has notified the Pulaski County court that he intends to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, McDaniel has also asked justices to temporarily suspend Piazza’s ruling – known as a stay – to keep it from being enforced.

The court has since moved up its deadline for plaintiffs to respond to the state’s request for a stay. The deadline for their response was initially 12:00 noon CDT on Monday, but was moved to 2 p.m. CDT Friday (today). A stay order could come as early as this afternoon if the court decides to grant the state’s request.

DIDN’T THE ARKANSAS SUPREME COURT ALREADY DENY THE STAY?

Sort of. On Wednesday, the high court denied the stay because Piazza’s original ruling omitted that separate law that prohibited county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The court simply said that statute remained in place. Piazza expanded his ruling on Thursday to strike down that law as well.

The court also dismissed the Attorney General’s initial appeal of Piazza’s ruling, saying it was premature because Piazza hadn’t yet issued a final order — a procedural twist that led the court to dismiss the state’s initial appeal. On Thursday, Piazza issued a final order in the case, which now permits the state to appeal his decision, which would also allow the court to reconsider issuing a stay.

THERE ARE 75 COUNTIES. ARE ALL IMPACTED BY PIAZZA’S RULING?

Gay couples sued for the right to marry in just six counties – Conway, Lonoke, Pulaski, Saline, Washington and White. Typically, only those counties would be covered by Piazza’s ruling, according Kenneth Gallant, a professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock W.H. Bowen School of Law.

Following the initial May 9 ruling, however, two counties not named in the suit — Carroll and Marion — began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in addition to Pulaski, Washington and Saline counties. Conway, Lonoke and White counties continued to wait for a final word from the state Supreme Court, as did the remaining 70 counties throughout the state. By Wednesday evening, all counties stopped issuing the licenses, but following Thursday’s ruling, some resumed.

WHICH COUNTIES ARE CURRENTLY ISSUING MARRIAGE LICENSES TO SAME-SEX COUPLES?

As of Friday morning, only Pulaski County (Little Rock, Ark.), Washington County (Fayetteville, Ark.) and Conway County (Morrilton, Ark.) are issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Other counties say they want to further assess the impact of Piazza’s latest rulings, and still expect the state Supreme Court to step in and issue a stay.

CAN ANYONE BE PROSECUTED FOR GIVING OUT LICENSES BEFORE PIAZZA’S FINAL ORDER?

It’s unlikely. Prosecutors in the five counties that distributed licenses said no one had filed a formal complaint that clerks issued same-sex licenses in violation of the now-tossed law.

“We’ve got far more to worry about in this state and country as far as crime goes than pursuing a clerk trying to do their job,” Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said.

WHAT HAPPENS TO SAME-SEX COUPLES WHO GOT LICENSES OR GOT MARRIED IF THE COURT EVENTUALLY OVERTURNS PIAZZA’S ORDER?

Since Piazza’s ruling, 467 gay couples in Arkansas have received licenses, according to an Associated Press canvass of county clerks. McDaniel and Gov. Mike Beebe have said it will ultimately be up to the state Supreme Court to rule on the validity of the licenses.

“We continue to believe that it will be the responsibility of the Arkansas Supreme Court to allay confusion and provide clarity to those same-sex couples who have received marriage licenses,” Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for McDaniel’s office, said Thursday.

CAN A GAY COUPLE HAVE BOTH THEIR NAMES LISTED AS PARENTS ON AN ARKANSAS BIRTH CERTIFICATE?

Yes and no. If they were among the 22 who received a new birth certificate Monday through Wednesday, yes. As of Thursday, the Health Department said it would wait for a later decision from the state Supreme Court.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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