Arkansas court: Current justices should hear same-sex marriage case

Arkansas Supreme Court

Arkansas Supreme Court

Arkansas Supreme Court

Arkansas Supreme Court

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas’ highest court ruled Thursday that its current lineup of justices should decide whether to legalize gay marriage in the state, which could clear the way for a decision that has been delayed for months by an unusually public split on the court.

The state Supreme Court ruled that Justice Rhonda Wood, who took office in January, should participate in the case, not Special Justice Robert McCorkindale, who was appointed by former Gov. Mike Beebe last year and who heard oral arguments in November.

“Our constitution provides for the elected justices of this court to determine pending appeals,” the court wrote in its ruling. “Special justices are temporary and their appointments cannot be used to thwart the clear language and intent of our constitution.”

The dispute over whether Wood or McCorkindale would hear the case effectively sidelined it.

The state is appealing Pulaski County Judge Chris Piazza’s decision last year striking down a constitutional amendment and earlier state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. More than 500 gay couples were issued marriage licenses before the state Supreme Court suspended Piazza’s ruling.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justice Paul Danielson recused from the case over which justice should participate, and both accused the court majority of unnecessarily delaying the case. Wood also recused from the case over whether she should serve. Gov. Asa Hutchinson last month appointed three justices to the spinoff case.

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In Thursday’s ruling, the court defended its actions and said the dispute needed to be resolved before it could take up the same-sex marriage case.

“The purpose of the present action is to resolve this issue so that the underlying case can be determined and not for the purpose of delay,” Justice Karen Baker wrote in the court’s ruling.

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