John M. Becker

All Eyes on Arkansas: Marriages Begin

Filed By John M. Becker | May 12, 2014 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Arkansas, contempt of court, gay marriage, marriage equality, same-sex marriage

little-rock-marriage-hrc.jpgToday is the first business day since Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Chris Piazza struck down Arkansas's marriage discrimination amendment.

Piazza did not stay his ruling, so on Saturday, 15 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples at the Carroll County Clerk's office in Eureka Springs, which keeps regular Saturday hours.

Today we find out whether the other Arkansas counties will follow suit and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Judge Piazza's decision.

Same-gender couples are currently marrying in at least two additional counties: Pulaski (home of Little Rock, the state's largest city), and Washington (home of Fayetteville).

The Arkansas Times reports:

Susan Barr and Shelly Butler were the first to obtain marriage licenses and be married this morning at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock. Joey Cole performed the ceremony. Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen performed the second marriage, of Devin Rudeseal and Thomas Baldwin.

Brian Chilson, David Ramsey and David Koon and more are on hand at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock today as same-sex couples apply for marriage licenses. County Clerk Larry Crane had said he would issue them under Judge Chris Piazza's order last week.

Arkansas native and Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin is on the scene as well.

According to Twitter reports from 4029-TV's Brad Carl, clerks in Washington County are issuing marriage licenses as well. The line began forming at 2:30 a.m., but everyone seems to be in great spirits. Carl reports that an unknown man worked the line and handed out money to cover the cost of couples' marriage licenses, and that many couples have been moved to tears after receiving theirs.

Laura Phillips -- the Fayetteville nurse and ordained minister who on Saturday donned a rainbow dress, rushed to nearby Carroll County, and performed the first legal same-sex marriages in the South -- is this morning officiating at weddings in her own Washington County. She writes on Facebook that she's already lost track of how many happy couples she's helped to tie the knot.

But many other Arkansas county clerks apparently intend to ignore the ruling and refuse to issue licenses. From the Arkansas Times:

Most counties in Arkansas will not be issuing licenses, relying on legal guidance that -- if the counties were not defendants in the case (only six were) -- and absent a direct order to cease discriminatory practices, the state ban remains in place in those counties. At least one county that IS a defendant -- Lonoke -- apparently has announced it will not issue licenses...

Several counties hoped to raise an objection about lack of proper software as a delaying tactic in hopes a court will stay the order. But even the county attorney in Republican Benton County, while claiming exemption for that county because it isn't a defendant, said claiming lack of software was a poor excuse. The counties could simply return to using paper and typewriters as they did in the pre-computer days. Perhaps a request for a contempt of court order would get Lonoke's attention.

County clerks, as agents of the state, should not be able to pick and choose which members of the public they wish to serve or which laws and judicial rulings they'd like to obey. If they are incapable of or unwilling to fulfill their public duties -- and in Arkansas, this includes issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples -- then they must resign.

The state has filed notice that it intends to appeal Judge Piazza's ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court. A copy of that notice is after the jump, via Equality Case Files.

In the meantime, though, legal marriages of same-gender couples are taking place in Arkansas this morning and will presumably continue unless equality opponents obtain a court order halting them and/or staying Judge Piazza's decision.

60CV-13-2662 Notice of Appeal by Equality Case Files

Image source: Human Rights Campaign

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