Arkansas high court won’t stay gay marriage ruling

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court has
rejected the state attorney general’s request for a stay of a judge’s
ruling that overturned Arkansas’ constitutional ban on gay marriage.
The
court on Wednesday turned down the request from Attorney General Dustin
McDaniel that would have halted the issuance of same-sex marriage
licenses.
But the court also gave no direction to counties about
what they should do, saying the circuit judge’s ruling had no effect on a
state law barring clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Two
counties had been issuing licenses despite that prohibition. Pulaski
County said it would continue to do so.
The attorney general’s office said it would appeal the judge’s decision at the appropriate time.
"County
clerks have been uncertain about their responsibilities and couples
unable to know definitively whether their marriage will remain valid,"
spokesman Aaron Sadler said in a statement. "A stay issued by either the
Supreme Court or Judge Piazza would have brought some certainty.
Unfortunately, today’s decision did not do that."
Pulaski County
Circuit Judge Chris Piazza had ruled last week that a voter-approved gay
marriage ban was unconstitutional, but didn’t issue a stay. A few
counties began issuing marriage licenses, and by midweek about 450
couples had gotten them.
The vast majority of the state’s counties
refused to grant licenses, saying the Supreme Court needed to weigh in.
McDaniel said a stay was necessary because clerks did not know whether
they were obligated to issue licenses.
In the filing, McDaniel’s
office also said it agreed with lawyers for four counties who asked for a
stay on the grounds that Piazza’s ruling didn’t address a separate law
prohibiting clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The
Supreme Court also dismissed McDaniel’s appeal of Piazza’s ruling,
saying it was premature because Piazza hadn’t issued a final order in
the case.
More than three-quarters of Arkansas voters had approved
the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2004. In his ruling,
which cleared the way for the first same-sex marriages in the Bible
Belt, Piazza said the ban violates the rights of same-sex couples.
"This
is an unconstitutional attempt to narrow the definition of equality,"
Piazza wrote. "The exclusion of a minority for no rational reason is a
dangerous precedent."
Carroll County, home to the tourist town of
Eureka Springs, was the first to offer marriage licenses to same-sex
couples. Fifteen licenses were issued the day after Piazza’s ruling, but
the county stopped handing out the licenses Monday. The state’s largest
county, Pulaski County, started issuing licenses Monday morning.
McDaniel recently that he supported gay marriage personally but would still defend the state’s ban.
Seventeen other states allow gay marriage. Judges have struck down bans in Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma,
Texas, Utah and Virginia.