Arkansas state court strikes down ban on same-sex marriages

May 9

In a wide-ranging opinion citing precedents involving racial discrimination like Dred Scott v. Sandford and Loving v. Virginia, a state trial court in Arkansas has struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. The ban is codified in state statute and a state constitutional provision that was approved overwhelmingly by Arkansas voters in 2004. Judge Christopher Piazza of Pulaski County ruled that the ban violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the fundamental right to marry protected by the Due Process Clause.

The judge did not stay his ruling, although marriage license bureaus in the state are closed until Monday morning.  The state attorney general, who supports same-sex marriage but is defending the state’s law, has indicated he will request a stay.

Judge Piazza held that the restriction on same-sex marriage  could not even be defended as rational:

Procreation is not a prerequisite in Arkansas for a marriage license. 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.

The judge concluded:

It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it.

There are now more than 70 lawsuits involving same-sex marriage pending in courts around the country. A dozen federal district courts have issued opinions in favor of same-sex marriage since last summer’s Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v. Windsor. Five federal appellate courts are now considering the issue.

UPDATE: At least one county clerk’s office was open Saturday morning and issued 15 marriage licenses to same-sex couples: “Gay marriage arrived in the Bible Belt on Saturday, beginning with two women who had traveled overnight to ensure they’d be first in line.”

Dale Carpenter is the Distinguished University Teaching Professor and Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He teaches and writes in the areas of constitutional law; the freedoms of speech, association, and religion; and sexual orientation and the law.
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