Gay Couples Marry in Arkansas, Most Clerks Sit Out
More than 200 gay couples obtained Arkansas marriage licenses Monday after a judge tossed out the state’s 10-year-old same-sex marriage ban, but only at a handful of courthouses as an overwhelming majority of county clerks in this part of the Bible Belt said they first wanted the state Supreme Court to weigh in.
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel - who recently announced his personal support for same-sex marriage rights but said he would defend the law - filed paperwork Monday to at least temporarily preserve the ban, which voters approved by a 3-to-1 margin.
In other states that have seen gay-marriage bans overturned, judges either issued stays with their orders or state lawyers sought them with some immediacy. McDaniel’s office requested a stay from the local judge Friday night but had to wait until the full court record was available Monday before going to the state Supreme Court, under the justices’ rules. Justices gave both sides until midday Tuesday to file arguments.
Seventy of the state’s 75 clerks have not granted licenses. A handful of clerks, including one who granted licenses Monday, filed a stay request saying the judge’s decision didn’t address a law that threatens clerks with fines for "wrongful issuance of a marriage license."
With the weddings Saturday and Monday, Arkansas became the 18th state to allow same-sex marriages, and the first among former states of the Confederacy.
"On our licenses, it automatically prints ’Mr.’ and I told the girls just to change that to ’Ms.’" said Becky Lewallen, the county clerk in Washington County, which is home to the University of Arkansas. She was among those who requested a stay.
A Pulaski County circuit judge tossed out the 2004 constitutional amendment, along with a 1997 state law, after business hours Friday. Carroll County, home to the town of Eureka Springs and known for its arts environment and liberal policies, issued 15 licenses to same-sex couples Saturday but stopped Monday to await word from the state’s high court.
The 2004 gay-marriage ban passed in all 75 counties, but fared poorest around Eureka Springs, Fayetteville and Little Rock - where the bulk of the licenses have been issued. Pulaski County said an overwhelming majority of the 170 licenses it issued Monday were to same-sex couples. Washington County had 84 gay couples - with office employees at Fayetteville using White-Out to correct "Mr." or "Ms." where necessary.
Shelly Butler, 51, and Susan Barr, 48, of Dallas, were the first to marry at Little Rock, arriving from Texas late Sunday night. They were allowed to go to the head of the line because Barr, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, is in a wheelchair.