May 10, 2014 | by Chris Johnson
Marriage equality comes to Arkansas
Arkansas, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, marriage equality, gay news, Washington Blade

One of the couples married this week at Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock, Ark. (Photo by Grav Weldon)

Following a circuit judge decision late Friday striking down the ban on marriage equality in Arkansas, same-sex couples in the state began to wed Saturday in the city of Eureka Springs — the only known jurisdiction to have issued marriage licenses over the weekend.

The first same-sex couple to marry in Arkansas was Jennifer Rambo, 26, and her partner Kristin Seaton, 27 and a former volleyball player at the University of Arkansas. The two, who’ve been together for four years, also have the distinction of being the same-sex couple ever to wed in the South.

Rambo and Seaton, residents of Fort Smith, got in their car immediately after the court ruling on Friday to head to Little Rock, intending to wed there in the morning, according to the Arkansas Times.

When they found out the Pulaski County Courthouse wouldn’t open the next day, they went to Eureka Springs. After arriving at 2 a.m., they slept in their Ford Focus, waking every 30 minutes to ensure they’d be at the front of the line, according to the Associated Press.

Fayetteville minister Laura Phillips accepted their certificate and performed the marriage or the couple, according to the Arkansas Times.

Their wedding was captured on camera by a Rett Peek, a Little Rock-Arkansas based photographer, who posted the shot on his Twitter account.

 

Also married were Dick Titus and Zeek Taylor, who wed in Eureka Springs after being together for 42 years.

 

According to the AP, Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued 15 marriage licenses to same-sex couples before doors closed at the office. Carroll County was the only one known to have issued marriage licenses over the weekend on Saturday, according to the ACLU of Arkansas.

But the Arkansas Times reported even Carroll County didn’t intend to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples at first. The head county clerk was away and Deputy County Clerk Lana Gordon has earlier refused to hand out licenses.

Gordon reportedly asked the attorney general’s office for an opinion, and when she didn’t receive one, she closed the courthouse, sending back to their home about 100 people waiting in line. But minutes later, Osborne, a deputy clerk in training, announced she would issue the licenses.

The couples were able to marry thanks to a decision on Friday from Pulaski County Circuit Judge Christopher Piazza, who, in the case of Wright v. Arkansas, determined that Arkansas laws prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the right to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.

But the weddings in Arkansas may be short-lived. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who’s defending the marriage law in court even though he supports marriage equality, has filed a stay request with the circuit court as he’s vowed to appeal the court decision.

In a four-page brief before the court, Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen argues for a stay because, among other reasons, other courts that have ruled in favor of marriage equality have issued a stay on their decisions.

“A stay is warranted in this case because the United States Supreme Court has determined that rulings substantively identical to the Court’s ruling in this case should be stayed pending appeal,” Jorgensen said. “To date, all of the marriage decisions by trial courts since Windsor have been placed under stay, and remain stayed at this time.”

Holly Dickson, legal director for the ACLU of Arkansas, said the chances of the court issuing a stay on the weddings over the weekend is “low,” but added she “could see movement as soon as Monday.”

Even more couples could wed next week before a decision on a stay is reached. Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane has said he’d be ready with software to issue gender-netural marriage licenses Monday morning.

If a stay is granted, the situation in Arkansas would be similar to what happened in Utah and Michigan, where federal courts ruled in favor in marriage equality, allowing a limited number same-sex couples to wed, but a stay was issued a later time.

In both those cases, the state refused to grant the benefits of marriage to the couples who wed, although U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder later said the federal benefits of marriage would flow to these couples.

Neither the Arkansas attorney general’s office nor the U.S. Justice Department immediately responded over the weekend to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether the same-sex marriages in the state would be recognized as valid.

If a stay is granted, the issue on whether to grant these couples the state benefits of marriage will be before Gov. Mike Beebe, marking the first time a Democratic governor has had to address the issue.

David Dinielli, head of the LGBT rights project for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said regardless of whether or not a stay is issued, marriage equality is advancing throughout the country.

“Stay or no stay, marriage equality is sweeping across the South,” Dinielli said. “We all know the end game here. Those who resist — whether in Arkansas, Alabama, or North Carolina — are seen more and more as quaint, antiquated — 21st Century versions of Alabama’s Governor Wallace, who so famously stood in the schoolhouse door.”

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

7 Comments
  • Ngallendou Dièye

    Sexual perversion remains one of several forgivable sins. (1 Co 6.9-11) However, a state that institutes such a violation of divine law risks judgement. This does not bode well for Arkansas.

  • We are sick of having to endure "religious" bigots and their damning us for loving. The
    BIG OTTS ought to be feeding the poor, eliminating racism, cleaning up corporate pollution, and dancing. Most rapes and child abuse comes from "straight" men. Give it up, homophobes. Your energy is ugly and mean.

  • Trella the Dyke

    Think: why did white fundamentalists (read bigots) go to Uganda to help the government pass a DEATH sentence on gay people? Intelligent folks need to get hip to the acts of violence — physical, psychological and economic – the pious right wing do to people: gay, poor, people of color and anyone else who does not goose step to their myths.
    It is unconstitutional to discriminate against anyone, homophobes. I wish the so-called “Christian” people would live more like Jesus. They, however, prefer the mysogynous Paul whose “thorn in the side” was most likely his internalized homophobia. Anybody who is so quick to damn needs to look into his heart and ask for forgiveness.
    We, the happy QUEERS, have to forgive you everyday. It’s a wonder so many of us survive with healthy self-respect, loving partners and happy homes. Give it up, bigots!

  • This is just the best! Even Wisconsin has not allow marriage of partners. I like we will see a backlash but in the end we will win!

  • Cheers to Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn for following the law and issuing the licenses. Doing her part for justice.

  • Hi Trella, I'm an Associate Producer for HuffPost Live, the live streaming network for the Huffington Post. I wanted to congratulate you on your marriage!! I was wondering if you would be available to join us tomorrow (Monday) at 4:30pm ET to talk about your amazing experience and the future of marriage in Arkansas and the U.S. overall. Please email me at kara.ramonetti@huffingtonpost.com . Thank you so much!!

  • We will continue to fight for justice. It is fun to annoy the right-wingers!

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