Same-sex marriage in Arkansas
|Legal recognition of
*Not yet in effect
Same-sex marriage in Arkansas was briefly legal for a period beginning on May 9, 2014, as the result of a ruling by Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Chris Piazza, striking down the state's constitutional and legislative ban on same-sex marriage as violating the Constitution of the United States. After approximately 450 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in several Arkansas counties, the Arkansas Supreme Court suspended Judge Piazza's ruling on May 16, 2014 and enforced a stay while the decision is appealed by Arkansas's Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Following Judge Piazza's initial ruling, county clerks were prohibited by state law from issuing licenses to same-sex couples, largely preventing such marriages from taking place in the state. However, Judge Piazza then subsequently expanded his ruling striking down a constitutional ban to also include the statutory prohibition on clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses. Piazza's ruling, now suspended by the state Supreme Court, which effectively legalised same-sex marriage in the state of Arkansas, is being appealed by Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
The first marriage license for a same-sex couple was issued May 10, 2014, in Carroll County. Piazza's ruling will be appealed by the state of Arkansas, represented by Democratic Attorney General Dustin McDaniel. Since McDaniel's office has requested a judicial stay, same-sex marriage has only been performed in a few counties. But the Arkansas Supreme Court refused to issue the stay. Judge Chris Piazza declared that the 1997 statutory ban (Act 144) and the 2004 constitutional ban (Amendment 3) violate the Federal constitution.
On May 15, 2014, Judge Piazza extended his ruling to strike down the state law prohibiting clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, effectively allowing marriage licenses to continue to be issued to same-sex couples. The ruling was stayed however.
On November 2, 2004, Arkansas voters approved Constitutional Amendment 3, a state initiated constitutional amendment that prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriage, as well as anything "identical or substantially similar to marital status" in the state of Arkansas.
Wright v. Arkansas
On July 2, 2013, eleven same-sex couples, some of whom had married in Iowa and some of whom were registered as domestic partners in Eureka Springs, filed a state lawsuit challenging the Arkansas Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage. They claimed violations of their rights to privacy, due process, and equal protection, as well noncompliance with the full faith and credit clause.
Wright was assigned to Circuit Judge Chris Piazza. On May 9, 2014, Judge Piazza struck down Arkansas's same-sex marriage ban on May 9, 2014. As Arkansas was in its early voting period for an upcoming primary, several clerks' offices were open the Saturday following the release of the opinion. The first same-sex marriage licenses were issued that morning in Eureka Springs, where county offices were open. Monday, May 12, saw more counties, including the state's most populous, Pulaski County, begin issuing licenses.
Since an initial motion for a stay had not been acted upon by Judge Piazza, the state attorney general filed an appeal of the ruling on May 10, 2014 and, two days later, submitted a petition for an emergency stay to the Arkansas Supreme Court. In an opinion delivered two days later, the state supreme court found that Judge Piazza's order was not a final one, and thus it is without jurisdiction to hear the appeal, as it was premature. The high court noted that the dismissal of the appeal was without prejudice, meaning the state may file an appeal once the circuit court issues a final order. 
Circuit Judge Piazza issued his clarified order the same day. He went on to grant plaintiff same-sex couples a permanent injunction preventing the state from enforcing not only the constitutional ban against same-sex marriage, but "all other state and local laws and regulations identified ... or otherwise in existence to the extent they do not recognize same-sex marriages validly contracted outside Arkansas, prohibit otherwise qualified same-sex couples from marrying in Arkansas or deny same-sex maried couples the rights, recognition and benefits associated with marriage in the State of Arkansas."
On May 16, 2014, the parties were back before the state supreme court on another petition for a stay. This time, the state supreme court granted a stay on Piazza's ruling, without comment, preventing any further same-sex marriages from taking place while the appeals process occurs.
Jernigan v. Crane
On July 15, 2013, a federal same-sex marriage lawsuit, Jernigan v. Crane, was filed in the Eastern District of Arkansas by two lesbian couples. One plaintiff couple seeks to marry in-state, while another couple seeks to have their New York marriage recognized. The lead named defendant is the Pulaski County Clerk, being sued in his official capacity for denying marriage licenses, with the other defendants being the state's governor and attorney general. The case is currently assigned to U.S. District Judge Kristine Gerhard Baker. On January 31, 2014, the county and state defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit, with the plaintiff same-sex couples replying on February 14. The court has yet to schedule a hearing on the motion.
Initiative to repeal constitutional ban
On June 27, 2013, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor, Arkansans for Equality submitted proposed language for a 2014 ballot measure that would repeal the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. On July 9, 2013, a different group, the Arkansas Initiative for Marriage Equality (AIME), which was formed in November 2012, submitted to the Arkansas Attorney General proposed language for the Arkansas Marriage Equality Amendment, a similar ballot measure but instead for the 2016 ballot.[a] Attorney General Dustin McDaniel rejected the proposal for the 2014 ballot on July 12 and again on August 12, and the proposal for the 2016 ballot on September 18 and October 7, each time citing problems with the wording. On September 19, he accepted the proposal for the 2014 ballot and on November 7, he accepted the one for the 2016 ballot.
The small town of Eureka Springs in Carroll County is the only incorporated place in Arkansas to allow domestic partnerships (since 2007) and healthcare coverage for domestic partners of city workers (since 2011). On November 12, 2012 Eureka Springs became the first city in Arkansas to endorse marriage for same-sex couples by a vote of the city council.
A June 2013 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Target Point Consulting survey found that 36% of Arkansans supported legalizing same-sex marriage, while 55% opposed it. Among respondents below the age of 30, support was at 61%. The survey also found that 63% to 61% supported employment discrimination protections, by respectively state and federal legislation.
A January 2014 Talk Business and Hendrix College survey found that 45.5% of Arkansas likely voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 21.5% of likely voters supporting same-sex marriage, 24% supporting civil unions, and 50% opposed to any form of relationship recognition.
An April 2014 Public Policy Polling survey found that 27% of Arkansas registered voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 63% thought it should be illegal and 10% were not sure. A separate question on the same survey found that 54% of Arkansas voters supported the legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 24% supporting same-sex marriage, 30% supporting civil unions but not marriage, 41% favoring no legal recognition and 5% not sure. It also found that 53% of 18 to 29 years old Arkansas voters thought that same-sex marriage should be legal, while 32% thought it should be illegal and 15% were not sure.
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- The text submitted reads:
- (Popular Name)
- The Arkansas Marriage Equality Amendment
- (Ballot Title)
- An amendment to the Arkansas Constitution to provide that the right to marry shall not be abridged or denied on account of sex or sexual orientation - providing that no member of the clergy or religious organization shall be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges relating to the solemnization or celebration of marriage and that the refusal to do so shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.
- (Proposed Constitutional Amendment)
- Be it enacted by the people of the State of Arkansas:
- Section 1. The right to marry shall not be abridged or denied on account of sex or sexual orientation.
- Section 2. No member of the clergy or religious organization shall be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization or celebration of marriage. The refusal to do so shall not create any civil claim or cause of action.