Same sex marriage (SSM) in Arkansas
Wright v. State of Arkansas:
Overview as of 2014-MAY-14:
Starting in mid-2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Windsor v. United State, a flood of more than 70 lawsuits have been launched in federal District Courts in various states, seeking to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). The lawsuits have so far resulted in rulings favoring SSM. Marriage equality has been attained in Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. However, same-sex couples are currently unable to actually marry or to have their out-of-state marriages recognized in these states because all of the court rulings have been stayed pending appeals to various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal.
This unusually high level of court activity was triggered by Supreme Court Justice Kennedy's ruling in Windsor on behalf of himself and four other Justices. They declared a major section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. His arguments were largely based on the equal access and equal protection clauses in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These
clauses require state and federal governments to treat individuals -- and by extension couples -- equally. Many District Court judges have picked up Justice Kennedy's arguments and incorporated them into their rulings that legalized SSM.
On Friday, 2014-MAY-09, Arkansas made history by becoming the first state from the old Confederacy to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). This happened a week before the 10th anniversary of the first state legalizing SSM. That happened in Massachusetts on 2004-MAY-17.
County Judge Christopher Piazza of the Sixth Judicial Circuit in Arkansas cited these previous federal District Court rulings in his decision to legalize SSM in Arkansas.
This is an unusual case, because Arkansas has an internal conflict within its state Constitution. There are also multiple conflicts between the U.S. Constitution and both state statutes and the state Constitution:
- It has two clauses guaranteeing equal treatment for every person. These clauses have been in the state Constitution from the late 19th century and apparently require marriage equality in the state.
- On the other hand, it has an amendment added in 2004 that treated same-sex couples differently from opposite-sex couples: opposite-sex couples can marry but same-sex couples cannot.
- Also, the 14 Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provided additional justification for concluding that the state's SSM ban is unconstitutional. It requires that individuals, and thus couples, must be treated equally.
- Finally, the Full Faith and Credit Clause in the U.S. Constitution seems to require Arkansas to recognize marriages legally solemnized in other states.
A handful of same-sex couples rushed to their county court houses on Saturday, MAY-09, to obtain marriage licenses. Some were married that same day. Over the last decade, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals have learned how important it is to react instantly when same-sex marriages become available in their state. There have been many cases where the window of opportunity to marry has slammed shut within hours, days or weeks. So, speed is often of the essence.
On MAY-1, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the lower court decision temporarily so that no more same-sex couples can marry.
The Attorney General of Arkansas has promised to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court quickly.
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Copyright © 2014 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial posting: 2014-MAY-10
Latest update: 2014-MAY-20
Author: B.A. Robinson