Arkansas Judge Closes the Loophole that Temporarily Halted Same-Sex Marriages in the State

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Update Thursday, 5:30 p.m: On Thursday, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza expanded his ruling against Arkansas's same-sex marriage ban to effectively strike down all the laws in the state barring the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In other words, the way is clear for  same-sex marriages to resume in the state. One county has already announced that it would do so, a day after the state Supreme Court upheld a law not addressed in Piazza's original ruling banning county clerks from issuing the licenses. The Supreme Court's decision temporarily halted gay marriages in Arkansas. The state's attorney general has appealed against Piazza's expanded ruling to the state's high court. 

As the Los Angeles Times explains, it's still not clear to many in the state whether the rulings apply only to the six counties named in the lawsuit in question, or whether his ruling requires the other 69 counties in the state to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, too. Some county clerks have refused to issue licenses to same-sex couples because the suit didn't specifically name them.

For now, Arkansas at least partially counts as the 18th state in the union to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

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Original Post: Arkansas' same-sex marriage ban, like those in many states, was recently ruled unconstitutional by a circuit court judge. But same-sex marriage is still illegal in that state, thanks to another law banning the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses.

Some counties began issuing marriage licenses over the weekend, but others either refused to do so or stopped doing so, waiting for the state's Supreme Court to rule on whether or not Judge Chris Piazza's decision would be stayed. 

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that there would be no stay, but county clerks are still banned from issuing same-sex marriage licenses because of another state law that the Supreme Court pointedly refused to address:

The circuit court did not issue a ruling with regard to Ark. Code Ann. $ 9-11-208(b) (Repl. 2009), 'License not issued to persons of the same sex.' Therefore, the circuit court's order has no effect on Ark. Code Ann. S 9-11-208(b) and its prohibition against circuit and county clerks issuing same-sex marriage licenses. 

That means that even if a county clerk wanted to issue the license, it would be against the law to do so. So same-sex marriage is legal, but there's no way to actually make that marriage official. That's like saying it's legal to drive a car, but illegal to have one.

Only two counties were issuing same-sex marriage licenses today, The Arkansas Times reports, though both of them will most likely stop in lieu of the Supreme Court's decision.

Several counties have also pointed to the lack of gender-neutral terms on their marriage licenses as a reason not to issue them to same-sex couples. One county simply had its software updated to allow for two grooms or two brides but apparently this was too difficult a task for other county clerks to complete. Or they simply refused to do it, as was the case in Boone County

Other counties said the circuit court judge's decision did not apply to them, as they were not one of the six counties named in the lawsuit he decided on. So there's a jurisdictional issue, too.

According to the AP, 456 couples managed to get licenses before the Supreme Court's decision not to decide anything. 


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.