May 9, 2014 at 6:02 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Judge strikes down Arkansas marriage ban

gavel, law, court, gay news, Washington Blade

An Arkansas judge has struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban (Photo by Bigstock).

A circuit judge in Arkansas has struck down the state’s laws banning on same-sex marriage, citing the 1967 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that eliminated bans on interracial marriage throughout the country.

In a 13-page decision, Judge Chris Piazza ruled that Arkansas laws barring same-sex couples from marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Piazza recalls the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia striking down bans on interracial marriage throughout the country more than 40 years ago, predicting the same thing will happen with bans on same-sex marriage.

“It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice,” Piazza writes. “The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.”

In his determination that Arkansas laws barring same-sex marriage have no rational basis, Piazza rejects the notion that religious objections are sufficient to bar gay couples from marriage.

“Procreation is not a prerequisite in Arkansas for a marriage license.” Piazza writes. “Opposite-sex couples may choose not to have children or they may be infertile, and certainly we are beyond trying to protect the gene pool. A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith. Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution.”

No explicit stay is found within the ruling. According to the Arkansas Times, Pulaski County Clerk Larry Crane said he’d be ready with software to issue gender-netural marriage licenses Monday morning.

The case was filed in state court and the decision was handed down from the Pulaski County Circuit Court, which doesn’t have the final word on the matter. The decision can be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

On Saturday, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel announced that while he supports same-sex marriage, he’ll continue to defend Arkansas’ anti-gay marriage laws in court.

Aaron Sadler, a McDaniel spokesperson, said his boss will appeal the decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court and seek a stay preventing any same-sex marriages from occurring during the appeals process.

“We respect the Court’s decision, but, in keeping with the Attorney General’s obligation to defend the state constitution, we will appeal,” Sadler said. “We will request that Judge Piazza issue a stay of his ruling so as not to create confusion or uncertainty about the law while the Supreme Court considers the matter.”

The lawsuit, Wright v. Arkansas, was filed on July 1 by private attorneys on behalf of 20 same-sex couples in Arkansas. Twelve of the couples are seeking to marry in Arkansas; six are seeking to have their marriage recognized in the state. A hearing in the case took place on April 4.

The timing of the judge’s ruling wasn’t a surprise. The clerk for Pulaski County Circuit Court indicated in a May 1 filing that the judge expected to hand down a ruling by May 9.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, praised the circuit court for issuing the latest court decision in favor of marriage equality.

“Judge Piazza held that there is no good reason for discriminating against couples and their loved ones just because they are gay,” Wolfson said. “With nearly 70 marriage cases now making their way through the courts, and five federal appellate courts now hearing arguments and soon to rule, today’s decision out of Arkansas underscores that all of America is ready for the freedom to marry.”

In 2004 Arkansas voters approved by a vote of 75 percent Amendment 83, which made the ban on same-sex marriage part of the state constitution. The judge’s ruling against the ban is the latest in a series of victories for same-sex marriage within the judiciary following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision against the Defense of Marriage Act last year.

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

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