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Arkansas clerk reverses course, will issue same-sex licenses

Arkansas clerk reverses course, will issue same-sex licenses
The Van Buren County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas
The Van Buren County Courthouse in Little Rock, Arkansas Valis55, Wikimedia

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A county clerk in Arkansas on Wednesday said she will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, a day after saying she would defy a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Van Buren County Clerk Pam Bradford said her office will issue the licenses to any couples who ask for them, saying she reversed course after meeting with an attorney.

“Apparently there’s no way around it,” Bradford said. “I don’t agree with it, but legally we’re going to have to issue them.”

Bradford had said in an email Tuesday that neither she nor anyone in her office would issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and she urged other county clerks around the state to join her in defying last month’s ruling. She told the clerks and several state legislators in an email that justices of the nation’s highest court had “over-stepped their boundaries.”

“Arkansans vote against same sex marriage. I will uphold the law of Arkansas,” Bradford wrote in the email. Attached to the email was a “Declaration of Obedience to Law and Defense of Natural Marriage” signed by Bradford.

Bradford is the latest county clerk to express opposition to the ruling, and her decision came as lawmakers are calling for protections for county officials who object to issuing same-sex licenses. Cleburne County Clerk Dana Guffey resigned last month, saying she had a moral objection to issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Bradford, a Republican who was elected last year, said she’s not considering resigning.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge have directed state officials to comply with the court’s ruling and say clerks must issue licenses to any same-sex couple who requests them. Hutchinson and Rutledge are both Republicans who have said they disagreed with the court’s ruling.

“The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue, and that decision must be followed,” Rutledge spokesman Judd Deere said in an email. “As the attorney general advised in late June, Arkansas county clerks should issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples upon request, requiring exactly the same procedures, fees and other requirements as required for opposite-sex couples.”

Deere noted that a state law enacted earlier this year doesn’t require a clerk’s signature for a marriage license to be effective.

Rita Sklar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas, said her group is monitoring clerks’ responses to the ruling and will be prepared to take legal action if any couples are turned away. The head of the state Association of County Clerks said she’s not aware of any other clerks refusing to issue licenses.

Bradford said her office will treat gay couples seeking licenses “with respect and in the same manner” as any other couple.

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