What The Heck Is Going On In Arkansas? A Marriage Equality Explainer

Last week was a crazy one for marriage equality advocates in Arkansas. First, on May 9, Pulaski County Circuit Court judge Chris Piazza struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban, allowing couples to apply for an estimated 500 marriages statewide over the next seven days. County clerks in some districts questioned the ruling, citing a separate law prohibiting them from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Piazza responded Thursday with a clarified order stating that he did intend to strike down all laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying, including the law about issuing licenses.

State Attorney General Dustin McDaniel — who has come out in favor of marriage equality but says he is obligated to uphold the state constitution that prohibits it — filed an appeal and requested an immediate stay, which would halt all marriages until the case could be resolved, but since Piazza had initially denied that stay, marriages continued. A flood of adorable newlywed photos followed, to the joy of anyone who needed a good happy cry last week — only to be halted by last-minute State Supreme Court ruling Friday. That one-sentence decision, handed down at 4:30 p.m., granted the attorney general’s request for stay and put at least a temporary end to marriages statewide.

So what does all this judicial back-and-forth mean? Well, first, no same-sex couples can get married in Arkansas until the State Supreme Court hears the case. That could be a long wait, but it may come before the November elections, when it would become easy political fodder for candidates. The legality of those 500 marriage licenses issued between the initial ruling and the stay is not entirely certain, but it stands to reason that they will be upheld, much like the Californian same-sex marriages that remained valid after Proposition 8 was passed. However, under the stay, the state will not have to recognize marriages performed in other jurisdictions, which was a key part of Piazza’s original ruling.

The Supreme Court order is also disheartening because it disregards Piazza’s basis for denying a stay in the first place. As part of his clarified order Thursday, he spoke of the “irreparable harm” that comes from denying a constitutional right like marriage, and how granting those rights while the issue is being litigated doesn’t actually hurt anybody else. From Piazza’s order:

There is no evidence that Defendants, the State or its citizens were harmed by the entry of the Court’s original order or that they will be harmed by the clarifications contained within the Final Order and Rule 54(b) certification.

However, the same cannot be said of the Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples who have not been afforded the same measure of human dignity, respect and recognition by this state as their similarly situated, opposite-sex counterparts. A stay would operate to further damage Arkansas families and deprive them of equal access to the rights associated with marriage status in this state.

So, this rests Piazza’s decision on two crucial points marriage equality advocates have been pushing for years: the idea that marriage to a same-sex partner is a constitutional right on par with marriage to someone of a different sex, and the notion that allowing same-sex couples to marry does no harm to straight couples, children, the state or the world at large. Because the Supreme Court order was so brief, it’s hard to know if that court agrees with those ideas or if they, like the attorney general, believe they are obligated to fully examine the constitutionality before marriages begin.

The good news is that it is getting harder and harder to legally justify same-sex marriage bans in the wake of last summer’s United States v. Windsor Supreme Court ruling. With a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act invalidated and the federal government declining to defend rules putting same-sex couples at a disadvantage, many states are seeing their own marriage laws as indefensible. If the Arkansas court follows the footsteps of states like Idaho, Utah and New Mexico, then plaintiffs in upcoming cases will have more and more legal precedent to challenge discriminatory laws.

Profile photo of Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn is a recent college grad, nanny and journalist living in New York — although, truth be told, she spends most of her time on Tumblr. Talk to her about intersectionality, Battlestar Galactica, and bacon if you want to be best friends.

Kaitlyn has written 45 articles for us.

4 Comments

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      I’m glad many same sex are getting the option to carry out what makes them happy, but I’m unconvinced that in the end its a good thing.

      If marriage is societies way of keeping sexual relationships organized and peaceful (similar to property rights with property), then bigamy, polygamy, homogamy, heterogamy, bestiogamy, inanimtogamy will all be about neutral in their effect on society. They would simply increase organization within society, which can slow processes, but increases in organization usually work out reasonably in the end.

      However, if marriage is about about an exclusive special bond with the purpose of building the most optimal family unit, given that the natural course of things is homogamous relationships always require outside help for family would suggest legalization to be less about what’s good, and more about people being free to do just whatever.

      I’m all for increasing freedom, but I would never suggest a criminals crime be made legal for the sole purpose of increasing freedom.

  1. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    It’s disheartening to hear such a general response to such an emotional and important cause. For one thing, it’s completely insulting to compare a homosexual or even a heterosexual relationship to that of a sexual relationship with an animal. One would think this would be pretty obvious but if you need it spelled out- consent is key. I am not even going to address homosexuals that wish to reproduce needing assistance from ‘outside help’ more than just saying- how 2 consenting adults (whether they be straight or gay) wish to build their family is none of your business. If you choose to let that influence how you feel about gay marriage then that is your disadvantage. Finally, the comment about the criminal and the crime? Really? If someone wants to marry another consenting adult human being of the appropriate legal age then how is that a crime? How is that compared to a crime? How is legalizing that even comparable to legalizing a crime? Do I agree with every lifestyle? Of course not. I do, however, refrain from speaking generally or negatively about the rights and privileges of those people. I’m not sure why or where people come off discussing gay rights so obliviously making insulting comparisons or robotic black/white generalizations. I guess I’m just not that rude.

    • Thumb up 0

      Please log in to vote

      “…I would never suggest a criminals crime be made legal for the sole purpose of increasing freedom.”

      Said another way, I would never suggest a person in debt have it forgiven for the sole purpose of just forgiving a debt.

      I mean even though I view the world starting with freedom, if gay marriage isn’t legal, I would never suggest to make it legal solely just to grant more freedom.

      But this is exactly the main crux of the gay marriage argument. I’m simply pointing out the flaws in the argument mean gay marriage, at best, will likely be a neutral on society. Just because my dog could do a better job in a marriage than many people in hetero marriages, causing a stain on the traditional view, doesn’t mean opening marriage to whosoever will is going to make modern marriage any better.

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.