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AG seeks stay of marriage ruling; licenses issued to hundreds of same-sex couples

Mark Eubanks, left, and Darron Berry of North Little Rock kiss after being pronounced married Monday at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock. (John Lyon photo)Buy Photo
Mark Eubanks, left, and Darron Berry of North Little Rock kiss after being pronounced married Monday at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock. (John Lyon photo)
Couples seeking marriage licenses crowd the Pulaski County clerk’s office in Little Rock on Monday, three days after a Pulaski County circuit judge declared Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (John Lyon photo)Buy Photo
Couples seeking marriage licenses crowd the Pulaski County clerk’s office in Little Rock on Monday, three days after a Pulaski County circuit judge declared Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. (John Lyon photo)
Melissa Thompson, left, and Sarah Bryant of Lonoke kiss after marrying Monday at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock. (John Lyon photo)Buy Photo
Melissa Thompson, left, and Sarah Bryant of Lonoke kiss after marrying Monday at the Pulaski County Courthouse in Little Rock. (John Lyon photo)

LITTLE ROCK — The state attorney general’s office on Monday requested a stay of a Pulaski County circuit judge’s ruling that struck down Arkansas’ ban on same-sex marriage, but meanwhile gay couples rushed to obtain marriage licenses while the ruling remained in effect.

Some state legislators who oppose gay marriage were talking Monday about impeaching Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza for his ruling late Friday that declared the same-sex marriage ban violated both the state and federal constitutions.

The day after Piazza issued the ruling, 15 same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses at the Carroll County Courthouse in Eureka Springs, which normally opens on Saturday to issue marriage licenses in the city known as a marriage and honeymoon destination.

On Monday, 12 more licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Eureka Springs and one at the county’s other courthouse in Berryville before County Clerk Jamie Correia ordered a halt at mid-morning.

Correia did not immediately return a call Monday seeking comment.

Eureka Springs created a domestic partnership registry for same-sex couples in 2007. The registry did not convey legal recognition to same-sex unions.

A few counties across the state began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday, though most chose not to.

At the Pulaski County Courthouse, couples were lined up well before the doors opened at 7 a.m. Monday. The clerk’s office opened at 8 a.m., but about 30 minutes earlier workers began handing out applications and assigning numbers to those in line.

By 5 p.m. about 170 licenses had been issued, a deputy clerk said.

Several officiators on hand at the courthouse in Little Rock were kept busy performing ceremony after ceremony.

“We didn’t think it would happen in our lifetime. We wanted to take advantage of this and be a part of this historical event,” said Lynn Smith of Little Rock, after marrying his partner of 12 years, Brian Minyard.

Minyard said he and Smith got to the courthouse about 6 a.m. and were the 29th couple in line.

The Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville also was deluged with applicants. A deputy clerk said 78 licenses had been issued to same-sex couples by mid-afternoon.

Deputy clerks reported issuing six licenses to same-sex couples in Saline County and one in Marion County.

Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen argued in a filing Monday with the state Supreme Court, “The Circuit Court’s order should be stayed while this court considers the state’s appeal, in order to avoid confusion and uncertainty about the effect of the Circuit Court’s order on Arkansas marriage law.”

Jorgensen noted that judges’ rulings in several other states that struck down same-sex marriage bans have been stayed pending appeals.

Jason Owens, attorney for four of the six counties named as defendants in the lawsuit that resulted in Piazza’s ruling, also filed a request for a stay Monday. Owens argued that Piazza’s order made no mention of Arkansas Code Annotated 9-11-208, which prohibits issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court gave the plaintiffs, a group of same-sex couples who challenged the same-sex marriage ban, until Tuesday to file a response.

State Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said some House and Senate members who oppose same-sex marriage are discussing the possibility of moving to impeach Piazza. He said the state Legislative Council meets Friday, and “you might even have a resolution on the floor by then.”

Rapert said he believes the judge’s ruling conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year that struck down a federal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

“When that decision was made, they also clarified that the states still have the right to decide whether they recognize or allow homosexual marriage or not, so really Judge Piazza has overstepped the United States Constitution, which he cites, he’s overstepped the Arkansas Constitution clearly, and he has flown in the face of the entirety of the population of the state of Arkansas,” he said.

Arkansas’ constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman received a 75 percent vote from the public in 2004.

Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk Larry Crane said Monday he believed his office had to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because he is named as a defendant in the lawsuit. He said the county’s software provider supplied his office with an update that allowed it to print gender-neutral licenses.

Also named as defendants in the suit are the county clerks of Conway, Lonoke, Saline, Washington and White counties. The Faulkner County clerk was named in the suit originally but later dismissed.

Conway County Clerk Debbie Hartman, Lonoke County Clerk Larry Clarke and White County Clerk Cheryl Evans said Monday their offices were not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on the advice of their attorneys.

Clarke also said he believed it would be unfair to issue marriage licenses that might later have to be revoked.

Several county clerks not named in the lawsuit, including the clerks of Sebastian, Jefferson and Faulkner counties, issued statements Monday saying their offices would not issue licenses to same-sex couples because Piazza did not have jurisdiction over them.

At the Pulaski County Courthouse on Monday, a lone protester shouted comments such as “The wages of sin are death!” but the prevailing mood was celebratory. The crowd frequently burst into applause as newly married same-sex couples kissed.

Darron Berry of North Little Rock said he was “a little bit” nervous that future court action might invalidate his marriage Monday to his partner of 12 years, Mark Eubanks.

“All we can do is think positive and hope it sticks,” he said.

Arkansas is the first state in the South to permit same-sex marriages. The first gay couple to wed in the state was Jennifer Rambo and Kristin Seaton of Fort Smith, who married in Eureka Springs moments after obtaining their license Saturday.

Rambo and Seaton were at the courthouse in Little Rock on Monday to show other couples their support. They said they were optimistic that Piazza’s ruling would be upheld.

“The attorneys and the plaintiffs have done so much in this case, and Judge Piazza, they’ve all been amazing,” Seaton said. “I think everything’s going to end well.”

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