No New Arkansas Gay Marriage Licenses -- For Now
Gay couples in Arkansas will not be able to get wedding licenses, even though the state Supreme Court upheld a ruling that struck down the ban on same-sex marriage, because a separate law that prevents clerks issuing the licenses to same-sex couples is still on the books.
In an unsigned order, the justices refused to put the ruling by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza on hold. Even though they rejected the state’s request to suspend the ruling, their order will still prevent any other same-sex couples from getting marriage licenses in Arkansas, at least for now.
"In our opinion, it’s not that they denied the stay or issued a stay, when they kinda, I guess, kicked the can down the road," said Thomas Baldwin, of Bryant, who married his partner, Devin Rudeseal, on Monday in Little Rock.
Last Friday, Piazza threw out a 10-year-old ban that voters placed in the state constitution and a separate state law barring same-sex marriages. But he didn’t rule on a separate law that regulates the conduct of county clerks, which threatens fines if they issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
"I think it actually makes it a little more muddy," Chris Villines, the executive director of the Association of Arkansas Counties, said Wednesday evening after reviewing the Supreme Court’s decision.
The justices, in their decision, offered no direction to the county clerks, who knew before the ruling came out that guidance for clerks was still on the books. They had wanted to know what to do with the conflicting findings: the gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, but clerks aren’t authorized to do anything about it.
"County clerks have been uncertain about their responsibilities and couples unable to know definitively whether their marriage will remain valid," said Aaron Sadler, a spokesman for Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. "A stay issued by either the Supreme Court or Judge Piazza would have brought some certainty. Unfortunately, today’s decision did not do that."
After Piazza’s decision last Friday, clerks in five counties responded by issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Through Wednesday evening, 456 gay couples in Arkansas had since received permission to marry, according to an Associated Press canvass of county clerks. Pulaski and Washington counties issued licenses Wednesday, but said after the ruling they would stop.
Couples that already have licenses can still get married.
The state’s other 70 counties had not issued licenses to gay couples, with many saying the Supreme Court needed to weigh in.
Lawyers for gay couples said Piazza could fix the problem by simply incorporating broader language when he files a final order.