Arkansas Marriage Ban Faces Federal Challenge, Judge Recusal

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com July 21 2013 2:16 PM ET

Two lawsuits challenging the ban on same-sex marriage in Arkansas were filed in the past week, reports the Arkansas Times. But on Thursday, the judge assigned to the federal challenge removed himself from the case, citing personal relationships with the architects of the constitutional amendment that banned marriage equality in the state in 2004, with the support of 75% of Arkansas voters.

Federal district judge Leon Holmes was assigned to hear the case, brought by three same-sex couples seeking to invalidate the state's ban on marriage in light of two recent landmark rulings from the Supreme Court striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's ban on marriage equality, Proposition 8.

The federal challenge in Arkansas was filed by two lesbian couples who were denied marriage licenses when they applied for them last week in Pulaski County, along with a male couple who are already married, reports the Times. The case formally names Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane, Gov. Mike Beebe, and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel as the defendants.

In his notice of recusal, judge Holmes explained that he developed professional relationships with the political leaders who drafted and campaigned for the ban when they worked together on similar issues in the 1980s. Holmes said the professional relationships ended when he became a federal judge, but he continues to maintain personal relationships with the ban's architects, compromising his ability to be impartial in the case, according to LGBTQ Nation. As a result, the case was reassigned to Judge Kristine Baker, who was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Distrit of Arkansas in 2012 by President Obama. 

A similar case with different plaintiffs challenging the state's marriage equality ban was filed in state court last week, reports the Times. Both cases contend Arkansas' ban on marriage equality violates the equal protection and due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution.