Arkansas already has a so-called defense of marriage law, but a new group started collecting signatures Wednesday to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would ban gay marriages in the state. Supporters of the proposal formed the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee, receiving certification last week from the attorney general's office. Arkansas is one of 39 states with some kind of marriage ban. But after the high court in Massachusetts ruled that the state must start allowing gay marriages beginning May 17, the Arkansas committee felt it needed to take action. Committee president Jerry Cox said the group wanted to take action to uphold "the way marriage has always been in Arkansas" and protect the state against "activist judges."
Former state representative Jim Magnus of Little Rock, a committee member, called it a "day of sadness" that a group has to "protect" marriage and the "laws of nature." Eric Reece of the Arkansas Equality Network said in a telephone interview that he agrees it is a sad day, but for him, it is because a group of people would seek to alter the state constitution "to add discrimination" against gay people. "They must understand that gay and lesbian couples are in loving, long-term relationships throughout Arkansas," Reece said. "We are taxpayers and should be afforded the same rights." The committee began its drive to collect at least 80,570 valid signatures of registered voters by July 2. The secretary of state's office would then have to confirm that the signatures are those of voters and that the measure has the required number of signatures to get on the November 2 ballot.