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Religious Tolerance logo

Same sex marriage (SSM) and LGBT rights in Arkansas, the "Natural State."


A deep-south state attains marriage equality:
Wright v. State of Arkansas:

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location of arkansas in the U.S. Brief timeline and overview as of 2014-NOV-26:

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 state courts and federal District Courts in various states, seeking to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). The lawsuits have so far resulted in rulings favoring SSM in all but two cases. Marriage equality has been attained in 36 states and the District of Columbia. At least one lawsuit has been launched in each of the remaining 14 states. However, same-sex couples are currently unable to actually marry or to have their out-of-state marriages recognized in these 14 states either:

  • Because the court has not yet issued a ruling, or

  • Because a court has issued a decision, but has stayed the ruling pending appeals to various U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal.

This unusually high level of court activity was triggered by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy's ruling in Windsor v. United States 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 on 2014-MAY-17. That happened in Massachusetts.

County Judge Christopher Piazza of the Pulaski County Circuit Court, Second Division 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. state statutes, and the state Constitution:

  • The state Constitution has two clauses guaranteeing equal treatment for everyone in the state. 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 Due Process and Equal Protection clauses in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provided additional justification for concluding that the state's SSM ban is unconstitutional. It requires that individuals, and 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-16, the Arkansas Supreme Court stayed the lower court decision temporarily so that no more same-sex couples could marry. The case before the Arkansas Supreme Court was renamed Smith v. Wright, CV-14-427.

The Attorney General of Arkansas has promised to appeal the case to the state Supreme Court quickly.

On 2014-NOV-25, in a separate lawsuit, Kermogam v. Crane, U.S. District Court declared Arkansas bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. That ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Topics covered in this section:

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial posting: 2014-MAY-10
Latest update: 2014-NOV-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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