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Marriage Equality

Arkansas Officials Emboldened to Refuse Same-Sex Marriages

Arkansas Officials Emboldened to Refuse Same-Sex Marriages

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Attorney General Leslie Rutledge tells justices of the peace they can likely opt out of performing marriages for gay and lesbian couples.

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Thanks to Arkansas's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed into law in April, the state's Republican attorney general believes antigay justices of the peace can refuse to officiate same-sex marriages.

AG Leslie Rutledge released a nonbinding opinion Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. In it she writes, "The threshold question would be whether a JP in this circumstance could successfully show that requiring him or her to solemnize a same-sex marriage would be a 'substantial burden' on the JP's religious exercise."

Like other elected officials in Arkansas, justices of the peace are allowed to officiate marriage ceremonies, though they don't have to. In her opinion, Rutledge indicated that JPs who don't want to perform same-sex weddings can stop performing marriages altogether to avoid accusations of discrimination; an American Civil Liberties Union representative told the AP that's preferable to turning away specific couples, i.e. same-sex couples.

Rutledge also noted in her opinion that JPs who are also religious officials, such as ministers, could likely refuse to marry gay couples if they perform weddings in a religious capacity.

"If the court were to rule otherwise, then the court would effectively be holding that a minister could not perform his or her religious duties simply because of the current or former public service," she wrote. "This would be a gross infringement on the minister's religious exercise that would easily satisfy the substantial burden test."

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Neal Broverman

Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.
Neal Broverman is the Editorial Director, Print of Pride Media, publishers of The Advocate, Out, Out Traveler, and Plus, spending more than 20 years in journalism. He indulges his interest in transportation and urban planning with regular contributions to Los Angeles magazine, and his work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today. He lives in the City of Angels with his husband, children, and their chiweenie.