John M. Becker

BREAKING: Arkansas Judge Strikes Down Marriage Ban

Filed By John M. Becker | May 09, 2014 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Arkansas, gay marriage, marriage ban, marriage discrimination, marriage equality, same-sex marriage

arkansas.jpgJudge Chris Piazza, a circuit court judge in Pulaski County, Arkansas, has just struck down the state's 2004 marriage discrimination amendment as unconstitutional. Piazza's ruling in Wright v. Arkansas held that Arkansas' amendment violates both the federal and state constitutions.

He did not issue a stay on his ruling, but the state is expected to request one.

From Judge Piazza's decision:

A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith. Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution...

The issues presented in the case at bar are of epic constitutional dimensions -- the charge is to reconcile the ancient view of marriage as between one man and one woman, held by most citizens of this and many other states, against a small, politically unpopular group of same-sex couples who seek to be afforded that same right...

This court is not unmindful of the criticism that judges should not be super legislators. However, the issue at hand is the fundamental right to marry being denied to an unpopular minority. Our judiciary has failed such groups in the past...

It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it. [Emphasis mine]

The Arkansas Times reports that unless a stay is issued over the weekend, marriages may begin Monday:

The order came after county clerks ofices closed for the week. But they can expect a flood of applicants Monday morning. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said he'd be ready with software to issue gender-netural marriage licenses Monday morning. The judge's decision not to issue a stay isn't surprising. Why would a judge allow something he found unconstitutional to continue? He might also decline McDaniel's request, which would send the attorney general to the Supreme Court for relief. It recently issued a stay of a lower court order in hotly contested lawsuits over judicial candidacies after Circuit Judge Tim Fox didn't issue one...

An important question now is how quickly the appeal can be completed and decided by the Arkansas Supreme Court. The court takes a summer recess and briefing schedules can take months after the record of the case is completed. It's an open question whether plaintiffs would be better off with the current Supreme Court or with a new court with two new members in January succeeding Justices Cliff Hoofman and Jim Gunter. Appeals Court Judge Rhonda Wood is unopposed for one seat. She ran as a "conservative" candidate and spent much of her time visiting Republican groups, an activity seen by many as an indicator that her rulings will dovetail with GOP ideology, including opposition to same-sex marriage. Appeals Court Judge Robin Wynne and Tim Cullen, are running for another open seat. Gunter was on the court when the same-sex adoption law was struck down in a unanimous decision. Hoofman was not; he later succeeded Robert Brown.

The plaintiffs included legally married couples unable to divorce in Arkansas, be issued birth certificates with names of both parents and other rights routinely available to other married couples. The suit named state officials and county clerks, who issue marriage licenses. Plaintiffs also included minor children.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who personally supports marriage equality, will nonetheless continue to defend the state's marriage discrimination amendment on appeal.

UPDATE: Evan Wolfson, Founder and President of Freedom to Marry, released the following statement: "Today a state circuit judge in Arkansas ruled in favor of the freedom to marry, the latest in a unanimous wave of more than a dozen state and federal judges across the country in recent months. Judge Piazza held that there is no good reason for discriminating against couples and their loved ones just because they are gay. With more than 70 marriage cases now making their way through the courts and five federal appellate courts now hearing arguments and soon to rule, today's decision out of Arkansas underscores that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry."

A copy of Judge Piazza's decision is after the jump, via Equality Case Files.

60cY-13-2662 Decision by Equality Case Files

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