Arkansas governor to move quickly on appointments for same-sex marriage case

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) AP

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)AP

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.)

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday he’ll quickly appoint three special justices to hear a case a majority of the state Supreme Court says must be addressed before they can rule on whether to legalize gay marriage.

The Republican governor didn’t offer a timeline for when he’d name the justices to the separate case surrounding whether Justice Rhonda Wood, who was sworn in in January, can rule on the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Justices last week said a separate case was needed on the matter, a move that likely pushes the consideration until after the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the same topic.

“We recognize the importance and urgency of it. … We want to move quickly on it,” Hutchinson told reporters. Hutchinson, who took office in January, has said he opposes same-sex marriage.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson recused themselves Wednesday from the newly created case, and Wood last week also stepped aside. None of the three have recused themselves from the larger case over gay marriage’s legality.

More than 500 same-sex couples married in Arkansas after a Pulaski County judge ruled in May that the ban violated the U.S. and state constitutions. The state appealed, and justices in November heard arguments on the case, which they then agreed to expedite.

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Wood replaced Justice Cliff Hoofman, who had recused himself from the gay marriage case last year. Former Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Robert McCorkindale to sit in for Hoofman.

Hannah and Danielson accused others on the court of unnecessarily delaying the gay marriage challenge by creating the new case, and argued there wasn’t a time limit on McCorkindale’s appointment. The four justices remaining in the case have said the dispute over whether Wood or McCorkindale participates must be addressed first.

“I don’t know what’s going on internally over there,” Hutchinson said. “I am concerned about it, but that’s a separate branch of government and I can’t solve the problem for them.”

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