Couples rush to marry in Arkansas–where they can

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Dozens of same-sex couples married in Arkansas cities such as Little Rock on Monday, May 12 after the state’s ban on marriage equality was struck down as unconstitutional.

Judge Chris Piazza ruled on Friday, May 9, that the state’s law denying same-sex couples the right to marry is in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In his thirteen-page decision, he wrote, “Although marriage is not expressly identified as a fundamental right in the Constitution, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized it as such. It has also consistently applied heightened scrutiny to laws that discriminate against groups considered to be a suspect or quasi-suspect classification.”

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has said that he supports marriage equality, but will continue defending the state’s anti-equality law. On Monday morning he formally filed a request for a stay on the ruling pending appeal to avoid placing any unions in legal limbo, as happened in states such as California and Utah.

When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, it created a legal precedent that directly led to judges around the country using similar language to declare states’ bans on marriage equality unconstitutional, including in Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Additionally, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee have been ordered to recognize legal same-sex unions preformed elsewhere.

In Fayetteville, best known for being the home of the University of Arkansas, clerks said that just that morning they had issued twenty-four marriage licenses, twenty-three of which were to same-sex couples. Washington County Clerk Becky Lewallen told The Big Story, “On our licenses, it automatically prints ‘Mr.’ and I told the girls just to change that to ‘Ms,’” with white-out where necessary.

One student from the university, Devin Rudeseal, 24, had been in line with partner Thomas Baldwin, 37, since 2:30 am, enabling them to be the second same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license in Little Rock. The reason for their hurry: Rudeseal was scheduled to take a final exam later that morning. He told reporters, “Let’s cross my fingers that I pass it.”

Some county offices were open over the weekend specially for giving out marriage licenses—fifteen same-sex couples were able to get them on Saturday in Eureka Springs, for example—but clerks in some others elected to wait until they heard from a higher court. In a statement, Faulkner County Attorney David Hogue said, “With all due respect to the Third Division Circuit Court of Pulaski County, a circuit court does not establish or strike down statewide law. That would be the role of the State Supreme Court.”

Though clerks in Carroll County had issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Saturday, it was reported on Monday that they had reverted to only granting them to heterosexual couples. Calls were directed to Clerk Jamie Correia, who was not immediately available for comment.

In Pulaski County, only one single, solitary protester shouted outside the courthouse before it opened. Meanwhile, a circuit judge for the county, Judge Wendell Griffen, told the Associated Press that he had married three couples within the first hour that the office was open.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said simply. “I am a minister. I am a judge. I am ordained to celebrate commitments in marriages and I have believed for a long time that my faith compels. This is the love of God joining with the love of people.”

The Associated Press reported that about thirty states are facing over seventy lawsuits, all demanding full marriage equality. Democratic attorney generals in states such as Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Virginia have elected not to defend their states’ marriage equality bans.

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