Jennifer Rambo, right, smiles as her partner Kristin Seaton, center, hugs Sheryl Maples, left, the lead attorney who filed the Wright v. the State of Arkansas lawsuit on May 10 in Eureka Springs, Ark. A judge overturned amendment 83 Friday, which banned same-sex marriage in the state of Arkansas. Rambo, 26, and Seaton, 27, were the first gay couple to be legally married in the old Confederacy. They arrived about 2 a.m., slept in a Ford Focus and awoke every half-hour to make sure no one else would take a spot at the head of the line. AP photo.
Arkansas Plans To Appeal Same-Sex Marriage Ruling
By CHRISTINA HUYNH
Originally printed 5/15/2014 (Issue 2220 - Between The Lines News)
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (AP) - Couples lined up outside a courthouse before dawn Monday as Arkansas' largest county began issuing same sex marriage licenses following a judge's ruling overturning the southern state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
"Thank God," Jennifer Rambo said after Carroll County Deputy Clerk Jane Osborn issued a marriage license to her and Kristin Seaton, a former volleyball player at the University of Arkansas. The Fort Smith couple had traveled overnight to ensure they'd be first in line, and wed moments later on a sidewalk near the courthouse.
Carroll County was believed to be the only county that issued marriage licenses Saturday. Several courthouses were open for early primary-election voting but staffers said they were not prepared to issue marriage licenses.
The Pulaski County clerk's office issued its first same-sex marriage license shortly after 8 a.m. After business hours closed Friday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled that Arkansas' voter-approved ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional - heralding the arrival of gay marriage in the conservative Bible Belt in the South.
More than 100 people gathered outside the courthouse in the state capital, Little Rock, before doors opened Monday. The first license went to Shelly Butler, 51, and Susan Barr, 48, of Dallas, Texas, who have been together since they met at Southern Arkansas University in 1985.
"When we heard the news in Arkansas, we had to jump in the car to get here," Butler said shortly before receiving the license. "I'm just excited to marry my best friend of almost 30 years, finally."
Later Monday morning, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel asked the state's Supreme Court to suspend Piazza's ruling. McDaniel, a Democrat, has said he supports same-sex marriage but has vowed to continue defending the ban because he believes it's his duty to do so.
Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a law forbidding the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. That ruling stopped short of declaring same-sex marriage legal across the country, but momentum has swung toward gay marriage ever since.
Using language similar to that from the Supreme Court, state and federal judges nationwide have struck down some same-sex marriage bans that were enacted in many states after Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriage in 2004.
In Arkansas, Piazza did not issue a stay in her ruling, and 75 county clerks were left to decide for themselves whether to grant marriage licenses.
On Saturday, 15 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses in the left-leaning tourist town of Eureka Springs. Other Arkansas counties have refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, saying the Arkansas Supreme Court must weigh in.
If Piazza's ruling is upheld, Arkansas would join 17 other states and Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriages have been legalized.
Rambo, 26, and Seaton, 27, arrived in Eureka Springs about 2 a.m., slept in a Ford Focus and awoke every half-hour to make sure no one else would be at the head of the line.
Initially, deputy clerk Lana Gordon said she wasn't sure she had the authority and shooed people from her office.
"We just walked out of here crying," Rambo said.
When Osborn intervened, other same-sex couples let Rambo and Seaton return to their place in line.
"And some of these people here have been waiting 50 years and they still instructed us to come up front," Rambo said.
Jason Owens, an attorney for four of the six counties named in the lawsuit over the gay marriage ban, said he'll ask Piazza for guidance Monday how to proceed.
"My clients want to follow the law. We just want to know what the law is, essentially," Owens said.
Jerry Cox, president of the Arkansas Family Council, which promoted Arkansas' ban, said Piazza's decision to not suspend his ruling will create confusion if a stay is issued.
"Are these people married? Are they unmarried?" Cox said. "Judge Piazza did a tremendous disservice to the people of Arkansas by leaving this in limbo."
McDaniel last week became the first statewide elected official to announce he personally supports gay marriage rights, but would continue to defend the state's ban in court.
Eureka Springs, an Ozark Mountain town of about 2,000, is known for its arts environment and liberal policies in the otherwise conservative northwest Arkansas. In 2007, the city council unanimously approved a proposal to create a domestic partner registry. The partnerships confer no special legal status.
Among those who let Rambo and Seaton back up front were Zeek Taylor, 67, and Dick Titus, 65, who have been together 40 years.
Taylor confronted Gordon, the deputy clerk, about closing the office, saying "Your job is to issue marriage license to everyone that's here."
Paul Wank, 80, of Eureka Springs, interrupted the exchange, pointing his black cane at Gordon.
"You don't have to be hateful sir," the deputy clerk said.
"You've been hateful to people like me for years. So keep up," Wank said. "You're doing everything you can to stall."
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