Same-sex marriage in Arkansas

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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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] But the Arkansas Supreme Court refused to issue the stay.[7] Judge Chris Piazza declared that the 1997 statutory ban (Act 144) and the 2004 constitutional ban (Amendment 3) violate the Federal constitution.[8]

Arkansas is the first former Confederate state to legalize same-sex marriage. Arkansas is also the first state in the Bible Belt to legalize same-sex marriage.[citation needed] 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.[9] The ruling was stayed however.



In 1997, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a ban on same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriages performed out of state. The bill was signed into law by Governor Mike Huckabee.[10]


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.[11]


Wright v. Arkansas
Seal of Arkansas.svg
No. 60CV-13-2662
Arkansas Circuit Court, Pulaski County
Date decided May 15, 2014
Judge sitting Piazza, C.J.
Case history
Prior actions Stay denied sub. nom. Wright v. Smith, No. CV-14-414 (Ark. Sup. Ct. May 14, 2014); initial opinion entered, (Ark. Cir. Ct., Pulaski Co., May 9, 2014).
Subsequent actions Stay ordered sub. nom. Smith v. Wright, No. CV-14-427 (Ark. Sup. Ct. May 16, 2014).
Case holding
This opinion, clarifying a May 9, 2014 opinion nunc pro tunc, finds Arkansas law (including constitutional law, statutory law, and regulations) to the extent it prohibits same-sex marriage as violating U.S. Constitutional guarantees.

Wright v. Arkansas[edit]

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, along with two of their children, filed a state lawsuit challenging Arkansas Constitution Amendment 83's definition of marriage and its denial of recognition to same-sex unions established in other jurisdictions. It named nine state officials and several country clerks as defendants. They claimed violations of their rights to privacy, due process, and equal protection, as well noncompliance with the full faith and credit clause. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Chris Piazza.[12][13] The case survived a motion to dismiss on December 12, 2013. Following this, on February 26, 2014, the plaintiff couples filed a motion for summary judgment in the case. Following oral arguments on April 17, 2014, Judge Piazza announced his intention to rule on that motion within two weeks.[14]

Circuit court ruling[edit]

On May 9, 2014, Judge Piazza struck down Arkansas's same-sex marriage ban on May 9, 2014, Wright v. Arkansas, case number 60CV-13-2662 (Ark. Cir. Ct., Pulaski Co.)

The day following the circuit court ruling, Saturday, May 10, was a weekend where county offices are typically closed. However, Arkansas was in its early voting period for an upcoming primary, so several clerks' offices were open. Hence, the first same-sex marriage license was issued that morning in Eureka Springs, where county offices were open. Monday, May 12, saw more counties, including the state's most populous county, Pulaski, home to the city of Little Rock, begin issuing licenses.[15][16]

Meanwhile, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, who came out in favor of same-sex marriage on May 3, said that he would appeal the ruling.[17][18]

Appeal and stay[edit]

Since an initial motion for a stay had not been acted upon by Judge Piazza, and with same-sex marriage licenses starting to be issued, 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 the petition, the state defendants noted that the United States Supreme Court had issued a stay in a same-sex marriage case, Herbert v. Kitchen, 134 S. Ct. 893 (Jan. 6, 2014), and that precedent should apply here. A group of Arkansas county clerks also filed a petition for a stay on their own, claiming that while Piazza's ruling overturned the state's constitutional same-sex ban, it was silent on the state's statutory ban, causing confusion and uncertainty.[19][20]

The plaintiff same-sex couples responded, arguing that the defendants' petition for a stay was premature and should be dismissed, as the circuit court had not yet acted on the initial stay, and that any confusion for the clerks should be remedied by a motion to clarify and correct the initial order, not a stay. On the appeal issue, the plaintiffs argued that while Judge Piazza's order granted them declaratory judgment, it had not addressed the issue of injunctive relief, therefore it was not a final order and hence, unappealable.[21][22]

In a per curiam opinion delivered on May 14, 2014, Smith v. Wright, No. CV-14-414, the Arkansas 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 state supreme court denied the request for a stay as well, noting that the circuit court's order left in place Arkansas's statutory ban on same-sex marriage, Ark. Code Ann. § 9-11-208(b). 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.[23]

Clarification of opinion[edit]

Since the Arkansas Supreme Court stated that Judge Piazza's order was silent about the state statutory same-sex marriage ban, this had the effect of temporarily stopping the issuance of marriage licenses by all of the state's counties. Thus, on May 15, 2014, the Wright plaintiffs filed a motion for clarification of judgment with Judge Piazza, with the relief sought is clarification that the statutory ban is overturned along with the constitutional ban. Defendants did not object to clarification, but sought a final order, and renewed their demand for a stay.[24][25]

Circuit Judge Piazza issued his clarified order the same day. In it, he criticized the defense for appealing the case to the state supreme court on a non-business day, in violation of court rules. The judge said "[I]t is and was the intent of the Order to grant Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment without exception and as to all injunctive relief requested therein. In fact, this was the expressly stated title of the May 9, 20l4 Order." 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."[26]

The judge entered the clarification nunc pro tunc, meaning it has effect as if entered back on May 9, 2014. He also denied the state's motion for a stay. The state filed a notice of appeal immediately afterwards.[27]

On May 16, the parties were back before the state supreme court on another petition for a stay, after the trial court judge denied the initial stay, Smith v. Wright, No. CV-14-427 (Ark. Sup. Ct.) 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.[2]

Jernigan v. Crane[edit]

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.[28] 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.[29]

Initiative to repeal constitutional ban[edit]

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.[30] 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.[31][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.[32][33][34][35] On September 19, he accepted the proposal for the 2014 ballot[36] and on November 7, he accepted the one for the 2016 ballot.[37]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

Eureka Springs[edit]

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).[38] 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.[39]

Public opinion[edit]

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.[40]

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.[41]

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.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Arkansas judge strikes down state ban on same-sex marriage". Reuters. May 9, 2014. Retrieved May 9, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b "Gay marriage on hold in Arkansas following new ruling". Time. May 16, 2014. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Lawyers Ask Judge to Expand Gay Marriage Ruling". ABC News. May 14, 2014. Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  4. ^ . Politico=title=Gay marriage in Arkansas resumes. May 14, 2014 Retrieved May 15, 2014.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Arkansas Clerk Issues 1st Gay Marriage License". Huffington Post. May 10, 2014. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Judge opens door to gay weddings in Arkansas". News-Sentinel. May 10, 2014. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "HB1004". Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  11. ^ CNN: Election 2004 - Ballot Measures, accessed April 7, 2011.
  12. ^ Rodgers, Barndon (July 3, 2013). "Lawsuit filed to overturn Arkansas Gay Marriage ban". Retrieved July 3, 2013. 
  13. ^ Pulaski County Circuit Court: Wright v. Beebe, July 2, 2013, accessed July 3, 2012
  14. ^ Ring, Trudy (April 17, 2014). "Ark. Marriage Ruling Likely in Two Weeks". The Advocate. Retrieved April 18, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Arkansas clerk issues 1st gay marriage license". The Boston Herald. May 10, 2014. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Gay Couples Marry in Little Rock; AG Seeks Stay". ABC News. May 12, 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel supports gay marriage, defends ban". Politico. Associated Press. May 3, 2014. Retrieved May 3, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Arkansas judge strikes down gay marriage ban". The Washington Post. Associated Press. May 9, 2014. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Arkansas seeks stay on ruling allowing same-sex marriage". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. May 12, 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2014. 
  20. ^ Jorgenson, Colin, Assistant Attorney General (13 May 2014). "State Defendants-Appellants' Petition for an Emergency Stay, Wright v. Smith, No. CV-14-414". Arkansas Supreme Court. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  21. ^ Wagoner, III, Jack (13 May 2014). "Response to Petition for Emergency Stay, Wright v. Smith, No. CV-14-414". Arkansas Supreme Court. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  22. ^ Wagoner, III, Jack (13 May 2014). "Motion to Dismiss Appeal, Wright v. Smith, No. CV-14-414". Arkansas Supreme Court. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  23. ^ Per Curiam (14 May 2014). "Opinion, Smith v. Wright, No. CV-14-414". Arkansas Supreme Court. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  24. ^ Maples, Cheryl and, Wagoner, Jack (15 May 2014). "Plaintiffs' Motion for Clarification of Judgment, Wright v. Smith, No. 60CV-13-2662". Arkansas Circuit Court, Pulaski County. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  25. ^ Jorgenson, Colin (Assistant Attorney General) (15 May 2014). "Response to Motion for Clarification, and Renewed Motion for Stay, Wright v. Smith, No. 60CV-13-2662". Arkansas Circuit Court, Pulaski County. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  26. ^ Piazza, Circuit Judge (15 May 2014). "Final Order, Wright v. Arkansas, No. 60CV-13-2662". Circuit Court of Arkansas, Pulaski County. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  27. ^ Piazza, Circuit Judge (15 May 2014). "Order Denying Immediate Stay, Wright v. Arkansas, No. 60CV-13-2662". Arkansas Circuit Court, Pulaski County. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  28. ^ "Federal lawsuit challenges Arkansas same-sex marriage ban". Arkansas Times. July 15, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Docket Sheet, Jernigan v. Crane". U.S. E.D. Arkansas, Case No. 4:13-cv-410. Retrieved 23 April 2014. 
  30. ^ "Arkansas group seeks to overturn state's ban on same-sex marriage". LGBTQ Nation. June 27, 2013. 
  31. ^ a b "Arkansas Group Submits Proposal for Marriage Equality". Ozarks First. July 10, 2013. Retrieved July 10, 2013. 
  32. ^ "Ark. AG rejects language of proposed repeal of anti-gay marriage amendment". LGBTQ Nation. July 12, 2013. 
  33. ^ "McDaniel rejects gay marriage ballot measure". ArkansasOnline. August 12, 2013. 
  34. ^ "Ark. AG rejects wording on same-sex marriage ballot proposal — again". LGBTQ Nation. September 18, 2013. 
  35. ^ "AG Rejects Wording of Gay Marriage Amendments". Edge. October 8, 2013. 
  36. ^ "AG Accepts Ballot Title Proposal to Repeal Amendment Banning Same-Sex Marriage". Arkansas Matters. September 19, 2013. 
  37. ^ "Arkansas attorney general approves marriage equality ballot language". Equality On Trial. November 8, 2013. 
  38. ^ Bolcer, Julie. "Eureka Springs to Offer Partner Benefits". Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  39. ^ Brantley, Max (2012-11-14). "Arkansas Times Blog - November 14, 2012". Retrieved 2013-11-02. 
  40. ^ "Progress in Arkansas" (PDF). Human Rights Campaign. July 8, 2013. 
  41. ^ "Poll: Arkansans may support private option, split on gay marriage". The City Wire. January 21, 2014. 
  42. ^ Public Policy Polling: "Clinton Brand Still Strong in Arkansas " May 1, 2014 , accessed May 10, 2014
  1. ^ The text submitted reads:[31]
    (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.