Ark. Marriage Equality Resumes
Same-sex couples in Arkansas can once again tie the knot, after a state judge amended his Friday ruling to strike down all relevant state laws that limited marriage licenses to opposite-sex couples, reports USA Today.
Just one day after the Arkansas Supreme Court declared Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza's ruling striking down the state's constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage incomplete and therefore unenforceable, Piazza has clarified that clerks in all 75 Arkansas counties may issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to BuzzFeed's Chris Geidner.
Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling denied a request for a stay filed by the state but noted that Piazza's ruling didn't address one clause of state law that forbade county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. When that decision came down Wednesday afternoon, attorneys for the plaintiffs — 11 same-sex couples — vowed to petition the trial judge for an updated ruling that struck all state laws restricting the freedom to marry.
That's precisely what the attorneys did, and today Piazza, whose strongly worded decision issued last Friday warned opponents of marriage equality that they adopt that position at their own peril, denied the state's request to stay his initial ruling, instead expanding the scope to provide clarity to county clerks who had thus far refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, saying there was no harm caused to the state by allowing same-sex couples to marry.
"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 today. "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."
Today's order also reaffirms the conclusion Piazza reached last week, that Arkansas's restriction of marriage rights to opposite-sex couples violates the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
Arkansas attorney general Dustin McDaniel, who has said he personally supports marriage equality, has already filed notice of his intent to appeal Piazza's clarified order with the state supreme court, according to BuzzFeed.
After Piazza's Friday ruling invalidated Arkansas's anti-marriage equality laws, five counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting Saturday morning. Since then, however, three of those counties have stopped providing the licenses to gay and lesbian couples, pointing to a Saturday directive from the Association of Arkansas Counties that instructed counties not to issue such licenses if the office did not have proper software to create and distribute gender-neutral applications. Other clerks argued that Piazza's ruling did not address several other state statutes that refer to marriage as the union of a man and a woman, leaving legal uncertainty about whether same-sex marriages are actually permitted statewide.
ThinkProgress reports that as of Wednesday, only Pulaski and Washington counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while Saline and Marion counties stopped doing so Tuesday, citing legal confusion surrounding Piazza's ruling. Pulaski and Washington counties had to halt as well due to the Supreme Court's order.
However, with today's clarification, it appears that county clerks throughout Arkansas are permitted to issue the licenses to same-sex couples, though it is unclear if Piazza, as a Pulaski County Circuit Court judge, can require county clerks statewide to abide by the decision and issue marriage licenses.
Since Piazza's Friday ruling, an estimated 450 Arkansas same-sex couples have received marriage licenses. ThinkProgress reports that Pulaski County, which includes the state capital of Little Rock, has once again started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as of Thursday afternoon.