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Ark. judge strikes down all state laws banning same-sex marriage

Ark. judge strikes down all state laws banning same-sex marriage
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza Danny Johnston, AP

Updated: 4:00 p.m. CDT

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A judge cleared the way on Thursday for gay marriages to resume in Arkansas, striking down all state laws that prevent same-sex couples from marrying.

A day after the state Supreme Court effectively halted gay marriages in the state, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza expanded his ruling striking down a constitutional ban to also include the prohibition on clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Justices had ruled Wednesday that Piazza’s decision on the gay marriage ban did not change that license law.

Most counties in lawsuit holding off on issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Clerks in Saline and White counties aren’t issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples, saying they want to further assess the impact of a Pulaski County circuit judge’s latest rulings.

Saline County Clerk Doug Curtis said Thursday he still wants the case to be decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court. He said a ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza shouldn’t affect the law across the state.

White County Clerk Cheryl Evans says she’s waiting to consult with her county attorney before proceeding.

Clerks in Pulaski, Saline and White counties were named in a lawsuit challenging the state’s gay marriage bans, which Piazza threw out. Clerks in Conway and Lonoke counties were also named in the suit but didn’t immediately return messages for comment.

Update, 3:30 p.m. CDT:

The Pulaski County clerk has resumed issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples By 3:30 p.m. CDT Thursday, the county had issued five licenses to same-sex couples since Piazza’s latest ruling, including one to a couple from Georgia.

Update, 4:00 p.m. CDT:

The Washington County attorney says same-sex marriage licenses will again be offered at the county clerk’s office. County Attorney George Butler said he expects the state Supreme Court to issue a stay pending a state appeal of Piazza’s ruling, but for now, the county will resume issuing the licenses.

Piazza also rejected a request to suspend his ruling, saying there’s no evidence the state would be harmed by allowing gay marriages to continue.

“The same cannot be said of the plaintiffs and other same-sex couples who have not been afforded the same measure of human dignity, respect and recognition by this state as their similarly situated, opposite sex counterparts,” Piazza wrote. “A stay would operate to further damage Arkansas families and deprive them of equal access to the rights associated with marriage status in this state.”

Attorney General Dustin McDaniel’s office said he would appeal and was asking the high court to suspend Piazza’s latest order. McDaniel, a Democrat, recently said he supports gay marriage but would continue defending the state’s ban in court.

“This order clarifies what we understood Judge Piazza had attempted to do last week, and it does not change our posture of seeking a stay from the Arkansas Supreme Court and pursuing an appeal,” McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said.

Pulaski County, one of two counties that had been issuing licenses before the high court’s decision, said it planned to resume issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately. The other, Washington County, said late Thursday it would also resume issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

An attorney for the couples who had sued over the ban said he wasn’t surprised by the ruling.

“I think his intent all along was to strike down any of these statutes that interfered with a same-sex couple obtaining a marriage license in the state,” attorney Jack Wagoner said. “The fact he didn’t call out the statute number of one of those statutes was an oversight.”

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Last Friday, Piazza threw out a 10-year-old ban that voters placed in the state constitution, as well as a separate state law barring same-sex marriages.

After Piazza’s decision last Friday, clerks in five counties responded by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Through Wednesday evening, 456 gay couples in Arkansas had since received permission to marry, according to an Associated Press canvass of county clerks. By Wednesday, only Pulaski and Washington counties were issuing licenses.

Arkansas voters approved a gay marriage ban by a 3-to-1 margin in 2004.

Developing story, check back for updates.

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