Same-sex marriages were expected to resume Thursday in parts of Arkansas after a local judge clarified a ruling he made last week that had left county clerks confused as to whether the state’s ban on gay marriage had really been struck down.
Hundreds of couples in a few of Arkansas’ 75 counties wed or obtained marriage licenses after the ruling late Friday by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Christopher Piazza, who said state voters and lawmakers had unconstitutionally defined marriage as being only between a man and woman.
The Arkansas Supreme Court had refused to delay Piazza's initial ruling because the high court said Wednesday that Piazza had yet to rule on a state law banning county clerks from selling marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
On Thursday, in three separate court filings, Piazza made clear that the intent of his original ruling was to stop all six counties named in the lawsuit from enforcing any state law that barred recognition of same-sex marriages licensed outside Arkansas, that prohibited same-sex couples from marrying in Arkansas or that denied same-sex married couples “the rights, recognition and benefits associated with marriage in the state of Arkansas.”
Because his initial ruling had failed to address the state law barring county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Assn. of Arkansas Counties had advised each clerk to consult his or her local legal counsel to decide whether to issue marriage licenses. All the clerks planned to stop issuing licenses to same-sex couples after the state Supreme Court weighed in.
On Thursday, Piazza wrote that the law pertaining the county clerks had been “inadvertently omitted as clerical error” in his first ruling. Therefore, he said, any gay marriages entered into during the last week should be considered valid.
Arkansas Atty. Gen. Dustin McDaniel planned to ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to delay Piazza’s ruling from going into effect until the high court can rule on the state's appeal.
"This order clarifies what we understood Judge Piazza had attempted to do last week, and it does not change our posture of seeking a stay from the Arkansas Supreme Court and pursuing an appeal," a McDaniel spokesman, Aaron Sadler, said in a statement.
Piazza denied the state’s request for a stay, saying he “cannot in good conscience grant such request” because it would impose “irreparable harm” on the couples who filed the lawsuit challenging the ban.
“There is no evidence that defendants, the state or its citizens were harmed by the entry of the court's original order,” Piazza wrote Thursday. “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.”
The new ruling leaves in question how the 69 counties not named in the lawsuit should proceed on gay marriages.
Piazza’s order from last week also didn’t clearly state by what authority he was holding unconstitutional the voter-approved and Legislature-passed definitions of marriage. His final order Thursday said that the laws “violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the United States and Arkansas Constitutions, and are hereby declared unconstitutional.”
With his order in effect, 18 states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.