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.
— David Ramsey (@ArkDavey) May 10, 2014
Also married were Dick Titus and Zeek Taylor, who wed in Eureka Springs after being together for 42 years.
— David Ramsey (@ArkDavey) May 10, 2014
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.”