Arkansas Supreme Court Halts Marriage Equality
After a tumultuous week when marriage equality was embraced in fits and starts throughout Arkansas, the state's Supreme Court has placed a stay on a lower court judge's ruling that invalidated the existing bans on same-sex marriage, according to the Arkansas Times.
Handed down at 4:30 p.m. local time, the court's ruling essentially restores existing state law, which defines marriage solely as the union of a man or a woman. The one-sentence order granting the state's request for a stay, joined by four counties seeking clarity, does not appear to address the legal status of the estimated 500 marriages that have taken place between same-sex couples in Arkansas since Pulaski County Circuit Court judge Chris Piazza delivered his initial ruling Friday.
Piazza's May 9 ruling struck down the state's constitutional and statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriage. However, several county clerks argued that the ruling did not apply to their counties, noting that Piazza's decision left intact another state law that prohibited county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. On Thursday, Piazza issued a clarified order, striking down that errant law and confirming that he did indeed intend to invalidate all existing state laws that limited marriage to opposite-sex couples. Still, county clerks were hesitant, with Pulaski County being the only one to resume issuing licenses to couples regardless of gender Thursday afternoon.
Now that the Supreme Court has granted the stay, it will consider the state's appeal of Piazza's ruling, though it did not announce a schedule for when those arguments would be heard. The Arkansas Times notes:
One question is whether the decision can be reached before the November election, when it could become prime political fodder. The Republican Party has long made opposition to same-sex marriage one of its bedrock campaign issues. National Democrats tend to favor marriage equality, but most leading Democratic candidates in Arkansas — including Gov. Mike Beebe and candidate Mike Ross — have said they favor the idea of marriage being between a man and woman. Sen. Mark Pryor and leading congressional candidates have said the same.
Pryor recently confirmed to The Huffington Post that he was among the majority of voters who supported the constitutional amendment, which passed by a 3-to-1 margin in 2004, making him one of the few Democratic U.S. senators who has not come out for the freedom to marry.
The state's attorney general, also a Democrat, has said that he personally supports marriage equality, but is duty-bound to defend the laws of the state. Because of this, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel filed the appeal on behalf of the state, along with six other counties that were named as defendants in the initial suit, which was filed by 11 same-sex couples.