Arkansas high court suspends gay marriage ruling

Arkansas’s highest court halted the distribution of marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday as it suspended a judge’s ruling that struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The state Supreme Court granted a request to put on hold Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza’s decision voiding a 2004 constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Piazza struck down the amendment last week, and he expanded his ruling Thursday to include all Arkansas laws preventing gay couples from marrying.

The Arkansas Supreme Court denied a request earlier in the week to stay Piazza’s initial ruling — but the court still effectively halted same-sex weddings by noting that a separate law prohibiting clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples was still on the books.

In a revised and expanded order, Piazza said that no one in the state was harmed by the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. He rejected the state’s request to put his decision on hold, saying gay couples would be harmed by that action.

Pulaski, the largest county in Arkansas, resumed issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately after Piazza’s ruling Thursday, and Washington County began issuing them again Friday morning.

More than 450 same-sex couples have received Arkansas marriage licenses since Piazza’s ruling last week.

Friday’s Supreme Court ruling came at the request of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and four counties. They asked that Piazza’s decision be suspended while it was on appeal to avoid causing confusion among Arkansas’s 75 counties.

Jack Wagoner, an attorney for the couples suing over Arkansas’s ban, said he was confident the state’s prohibition would ultimately be struck down.

“The handwriting’s on the wall from the United States Supreme Court,” he said. “Unless every court is reading the U.S. Supreme Court wrong, the days of barring same-sex couples from marrying are coming to an end.”“As this office stated in its pleadings, a stay prevents confusion and uncertainty until the Arkansas Supreme Court decides this matter on appeal,” said McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler.

McDaniel’s office said Friday’s order ended the uncertainty for county clerks.

Seventeen states and the District allow gay marriage.

Judges have struck down bans in Idaho, Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Virginia. In some places, judges have put their own orders on hold, while in others higher courts have done so after court clerks allowed some same-sex couples to marry.

In Idaho, plans for same-sex marriages to begin Friday were put on hold as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit considered whether the governor and attorney general should have more time to appeal a judge’s ruling overturning a state ban.

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