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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 16 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 20
Arkansas marriages back on track after judge clarifies ruling
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Arkansas marriages back on track after judge clarifies ruling

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Gay and Lesbian couples can marry again in Arkansas after Pulaski County District Judge Chris Piazza ruled on May 15 that his previous decision striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriages applied to all laws that stood in the way of same-sex marriages.

Piazza also rejected a motion by state officials to stay his ruling pending appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Officials in Pulaski County, the location of Little Rock and the state's most populous county, said they would begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples after they suspended doing so on May 14.

On May 9, Piazza struck down an amendment to the Arkansas state constitution and a separate statute banning same-sex marriage, saying they violated the U.S. Constitution. He did not stay his decision in order to allow the state time to appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court, and clerks in five counties began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Three counties subsequently stopped issuing licenses after the state appealed Piazza's decision, but not before 450 couples received permission to marry. Since Arkansas law does not establish a waiting period, many were married immediately after getting their licenses.

Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said that while he personally supports marriage equality, he felt he had a legal obligation to defend the laws of his state, and his attorneys are handling the appeal of Piazza's decision.

The Arkansas Supreme Court, which has ultimate jurisdiction because Piazza is a state judge, turned down the state's request for a stay on May 14, saying that they did not have jurisdiction in the case until Piazza issued his final orders in the case.

The Supreme Court did note, however, that while Piazza struck down state laws defining marriage as an opposite-sex union, he did not explicitly address the state law forbidding county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

If that law remained enforceable, Gay and Lesbian couples would still be unable to marry even if they had a constitutional right to do so. Consequently, attorneys for the plaintiffs asked Piazza to clarify his decision and also invalidate the law restricting county clerks, which he did May 15.

No legitimate state interest
Piazza, who in 2010 also struck down an Arkansas law preventing same-sex couples from adopting children, decisively rejected the state's arguments for the ban on same-sex marriages.

'Arkansas's marriage laws discriminate against same-sex couples in violation of the Equal Protection Clause because they do not advance any conceivable legitimate state interest,' Piazza wrote in his May 9 ruling.

'Tradition alone cannot form a rational basis for a law. The fact that a particular discrimination has been 'traditional' is even more of a reason to be skeptical of its rationality,' he added.

Piazza also rejected the state's claim that opposite-sex marriage promotes procreation.

'Procreation is not a prerequisite in Arkansas for a marriage license,' he wrote.

'Opposite-sex couples may choose not to have children or they may be infertile, and certainly we are beyond trying to protect the gene pool. A marriage license is a civil document and is not, nor can it be, based upon any particular faith. Same-sex couples are a morally disliked minority and the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages is driven by animus rather than a rational basis. This violates the United States Constitution.'

Impeachment?
Meanwhile, an Arkansas state senator threatened to begin impeachment proceedings against Piazza.

Republican State Senator Jason Rapert said the judge's decision violates the will of Arkansas voters who enacted the same-sex marriage ban in 2010.

'By virtually ordering same sex marriage to begin immediately, which in fact happened in at least one Arkansas county on the morning after Judge Piazza's Friday night massacre of the law and the will of the people, he positioned himself as if he were all three branches of government and declared the voters immaterial,' Rapert said. 'The Governor should call a special session of the legislature and impeach the judge and affirm the people's will.'

Rapert added that he had been 'contacted today [May 9] by other legislators that would seek to start impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives against Judge Chris Piazza.'

Rapert gained a degree of notoriety in January when he also called for the impeachment of 'dictator' Barak Obama because he has 'denounced the well-documented fact that America is a Christian nation.'

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