Arkansas Marriage Ban Unconstitutional
A judge in Arkansas declared the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional Friday, in the latest of an unbroken sweep of judicial victories for marriage equality since last summer's landmark Supreme Court ruling.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza issued his ruling Friday evening, invalidating the state's ban on performing same-sex marriages or recognizing those legally performed in other states. Piazza did not include a stay on his ruling, though it was published after county clerks' offices had closed for the weekend, reports the Arkansas Times.
State attorney general Dustin McDaniel, a Democrat who has said he personally supports marriage equality, said that his office will nonetheless appeal today's ruling, in accordance with his duty to uphold the constitution of the state.
But depending on how quickly the state files that appeal, same-sex couples could begin marrying in Arkansas early Monday morning, if an emergency stay is not requested or granted. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane told the Arkansas Times he was prepared to issue marriage licenses with gender-neutral options for spouses starting Monday.
Deciding a case brought by 11 same-sex couples and one woman seeking a divorce from her wife, whom she married in another state, Piazza's ruling struck down both a state constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2004, and a 1997 law that forbade same-sex marriage. In his 13-page ruling, Piazza framed the issue as a question of fundamental freedoms.
"The court is not unmindful of the criticism that judges should not be super legislators," wrote Piazza, according to the Times. "However, the issue at hand is the fundamental right to marry being denied to an unpopular minority. Our judiciary has failed such groups in the past."
Like other state and federal judges who have struck down state antimarriage laws, Piazza relied on last year's landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Windsor, which voided a key section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. But in his closing remarks, Piazza pointed to another landmark case decided at the Supreme Court that guaranteed a different group the freedom to marry, 1967's Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state bans on interracial marriage.
"It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice," wrote Piazza. "The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."
Read the judge's full ruling here.