May 1, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Judge expects to rule on Arkansas marriage by May 9

gavel, law, court, gay news, Washington Blade

An Arkansas judge has indicated he’ll rule on the state’s marriage ban on May 9 (Photo by Bigstock).

An Arkansas judge has indicated he’ll rule on a marriage equality case pending before his court no later than May 9.

In a notice dated May 1 to attorneys in the case, Summer McCoy, a law clerk for the Pulaski County Circuit Court, says Judge Chris Piazza will take an addition week to consider the issue, then make a decision.

“Judge Piazza has asked me to notify you that he would like to take an additional
week to consider the case law, briefs of parties, and arguments of counsel,” McCoy writes. “He feels confident that he will have a ruling for the parties no later than Friday, May 9th.”

The clerk doesn’t say whether the judge is inclined to rule one way or another on marriage equality when he makes his decision.

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said a ruling from the judge may be more limited than a statewide decision on marriage equality because of the nature of the complaint and the defendants who are named.

“Because plaintiffs have sued the head of the state Departments of Health and of Finance, I believe that injunctive relief could issue statewide against those defendants (requiring issuance of the birth certificates and tax filing), but not necessarily requiring other state and local agencies to recognize marriages same-sex couples entered out of state,” Davidson said. “In addition, the suit names the clerks of 6 Arkansas counties (Pulaski, Lonoke, Conway, Saline, Faulkner and Washington), but not the clerks of all counties in the state. So, I think a trial court ruling in plaintiffs’ favor would bind the clerks in those 6 counties, but not the clerks of other counties.”

Davidson said he can’t predict with any confidence which way the judge will rule, but noted he’s the same trial judge who, in the case of Cole v. Arkansas Department of Human Services, struck down Arkansas’ previous restriction on adoption by unmarried couples as infringing on the right to privacy. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed that decision on appeal.

The case was filed on July 1, 2013 — days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the Defense of Marriage Act — by private attorneys on behalf of 20 same-sex couples in Arkansas. Some of the couples are seeking to marry in Arkansas; some are seeking to have their marriage recognized in the state. A hearing in the case took place on April 4.

The lawsuit, Wright v. Arkansas, alleges state laws banning same-sex marriage violate these couples’ rights under both the equal protection and due process clauses of the Arkansas State Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

In 2004, Arkansas voters approved Amendment 83, which made the ban on same-sex marriage part of the state constitution, by a vote of 75 percent.

More to come…

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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